Richardson's Ground Squirrels

Phylogenetic Tree of Richardson's Ground Squirrels
(also known as gophers)

Ground squirrels are members of the mammalian Order Rodentia, Family Sciuridae, Class Mammalia. In North America, the squirrel family includes ground squirrels (formerly classed in the genus Spermophilus but since 2009 reorganized into the genera Urocitellus, Poliocitellus, Otospermophilus, Callospermophilus, Xerospermophilus, and Ictidomys), prairie dogs (Cynomys), marmots (Marmota), antelope squirrels (Ammospermophilus), chipmunks (Tamias), tree squirrels (Sciurus and Tamiasciurus), and flying squirrels (Glaucomys).


The phylogenic tree below is adapted from Harrison et al. (2003).  Note that the generic names used by Harrison et al. (2003) for North American species changed following the generic revision by Helgen at al. (2009).

Species names that are underlined are linked to a brief description of that species.

  • A maple leaf found in Canada behind the species name indicates that the species is found in Canada.
  • C. indicates prairie dogs in the genus Cynomys. The name prairie dog refers to a warning call that sounds similar to a dog's bark.
  • M. indicates marmots in the genus Marmota. Marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family, attaining weights of 2-6 kg depending on the species.
  • S. indicates ground squirrels formerly in the genus Spermophilus.
  • A. indicates antelope squirrels in the genus Ammospermophilus.
Use the following link to view the phylogenetic tree, then click anywhere in the tree to enlarge.

phylogenetic tree

Species links from phylogenic tree:

Urocitellus columbianus (Columbian ground squirrel) found in Canada
Grayish fur flecked with buffy spots, and reddish fur on face, forelegs and tail. Found in alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains of south-western Alberta, eastern British Columbia, and the north-west United States.

Ictidomys tridecemlineatus (thirteen-lined ground squirrel) found in Canada
Distinguished by thirteen whitish stripes, some continuous and others interrupted to form spots. This species is widespread, but not common, throughout the Great Plains and prairie regions of central United States and Canada.

Callospermophilus lateralis (golden-mantled ground squirrel) found in Canada
Due to the conspicuous white stripe on the sides, this ground squirrel is often confused with a chipmunk. However, the golden-mantled ground squirrel is larger and has a russet-coloured mantle on the shoulders. It lives in the high mountains of western North America.

Poliocitellus franklinii (Franklin's ground squirrel) found in Canada
The long bushy tail of the Franklin's ground squirrels is more reminiscent of tree squirrels than other ground squirrels. This species can be identified by its conspicuous grey tail, gray head and shoulders, and by its choice of habitat. Whereas most other ground squirrels live in open habitats such as alpine meadows and short grass prairies, Franklin's ground squirrels prefer tall-grass prairies, shrub land, and aspen parkland.

Urocitellus parryii (Arctic ground squirrel) found in Canada
The most northerly species of ground squirrel, with a range extending to the Arctic Ocean. The head is cinnamon brown, the dorsal fur is flecked with white, and the belly is grayish.

Urocitellus elegans (Wyoming ground squirrel)
The similarity in appearance between Wyoming ground squirrels and Richardson's ground squirrels is so great that for many years the Wyoming ground squirrel was considered to be a subspecies of Richardson's ground squirrels. However, genetic evidence, such as the difference in numbers of chromosomes, justifies classification as a separate species. The Wyoming ground squirrel occurs in three distinct locations in the US, primarily in Montana/Idaho, Wyoming/Colorado, and Nevada.

Urocitellus armatus (Uinta ground squirrel)
Distinguished from Townsend's and Richardson's ground squirrels by its blackish tail. Found in the foothills and mountains of Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

Urocitellus beldingi (Belding's ground squirrel)
Distinguished from Richardson's ground squirrel by the reddish underside of its tail and from Townsend's ground squirrel by its larger size and cinnamon under-parts. Colonies are found in mountain meadows surrounded by coniferous forests in western United States.

Urocitellus townsendii (Townsend's ground squirrel)
A relatively small, buff-colored squirrel found in the sandy sagebrush valleys of western United States.

Xeropermophilus tereticaudus (round-tailed ground squirrel)
This desert ground squirrel of southwest United States has two color phases, pinkish-cinnamon and dull gray.

Otospermophilus beecheyi (California ground squirrel)
Characterized by a mottled brown coat with a darker band extending from head over the back. They are slightly smaller than rock squirrels and are found in the far west United States.

Otospermophilus variegatus (rock squirrel)
Intermixed black and white hairs give it a grizzled appearance, and black fur may cover the head and shoulders of some subspecies. Found in rocky areas of southwest United States and central Mexico.

Cynomys ludovicianus (black-tailed prairie dog) found in Canada
The black-tipped tail of the black-tailed prairie dog is short relative to overall body size. When they stand upright, black-tailed prairie dogs appear to tilt slightly backwards. The black-tailed prairie dog has an extremely large geographic range, extending from northern Mexico to southern Canada. As a result of the introduction of European agriculture to North America, remnant populations of black-tailed prairie dogs are now smaller and more scattered than the historical distribution.

Cynomys parvidens (Utah prairie dog)
Belonging to the white-tailed group, this species represents the western-most outpost of prairie dog populations in Utah. They are also the least common and most restricted in range of all the prairie dogs.

Cynomys gunnisoni (Gunnison's prairie dog)
Cinnamon-buff coloration overlaid with black hairs. From central Colorado, its range extends into Arizona and New Mexico.

Cynomys leucurus (white-tailed prairie dog)
White-tailed prairie dogs can be distinguished from the black-tailed prairie dogs by their smaller size and white-tipped tail. This species lives at high elevations in the Rocky Mountain region of the west-central United States.

Marmota flaviventris (yellow-bellied marmot) found in Canada
Named after its yellow-brown underside, this marmot occurs in the northwest United States, south-central British Columbia, and southern Alberta. It makes its burrows in rock slides or beneath a jumble of boulders.

Marmota caligata (hoary marmot) found in Canada
Largest of the American marmots, it appears mostly black and white with black 'boots' on its feet and black streaks marking the sides of the head and neck. Found in western North America from Alberta to Alaska.

Marmota olympus (Olympic marmot) found in Canada
Resembling the hoary marmot, its markings are less distinct and its coat bleaches yellow during the summer. Found in the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

Marmota monax (woodchuck) found in Canada
This is the most widespread marmot, ranging from the eastern United States and Canada across the aspen parkland to Alaska. This species is also called the groundhog or whistle pig.

Marmota vancouverensis (Vancouver Island marmot) found in Canada
An extremely endangered species found only on Vancouver Island. Extensive work on recovering the species is ongoing.

Related Pages:
Species Description
Related Species


  • Harrison, R. G., Bogdanowicz, S. M., Hoffmann, R. S., Yensen,E. and Sherman, P. W. 2003. Phylogeny and evolutionary history of the ground squirrels (Rodentia: Marmotinae). Journal of Mammalian Evolution, 10: 249-275.
  • Helgen, K. M., F. R. Cole, L. E. Helgen, and D. E. Wilson. 2009. Generic revision in the Holarctic ground squirrel genus Spermophilus.  Journal of Mammalogy, 90:270-305.
  • Hartson, T. 1999. Squirrels of the West.
  • Maclintok, D. 1970. Squirrels of North America.
  • Wilson, D. E., and S. Ruff (eds.) 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals.
  • Yensen, E. and P. W. Sherman. 2003. Ground-dwelling squirrels of the Pacific NorthWest.
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