Story and Photographs By Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… today is back to some delightful memories of the summer months that we had the pleasure and joy of spending weeks through late June until the end of August with one or two of our grandchildren and our nephew weekly. They began their Adirondack adventures as early as age three and continued until their late teens. These adventures were as enjoyable and simple as finding “critters” and making terrariums and learning about amphibians, insects, snails, and slugs. The local zoos and other attractions were a must during each visit too. As they grew kayaking, mountain climbing and trail rides on horseback and museums became our focus.

Today I am remembering a special endearing critter that became a “family friend” and we named him Roger. Roger was an Eastern Chipmunk that loved entertaining us all as we helped him add to his “winter food supply.” Roger was easy to recognize because he was missing a small portion of this left ear, which he no doubt lost in a battle. Without any coaxing he learned to run up onto our grandchildren’s lap, as they sat on the grass, to retrieve unsalted peanuts. He could put three peanuts each time by stuffing one peanut into each cheek pouch and a third between his teeth. It actually didn’t take long for his siblings, mate and eventually his offspring to take advantage of these offerings, and we enjoyed the giggles and laughter that filled the air, until that day’s supply ran out.

Some of the adjectives used when describing an Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) might be cute, sweet or charming, because they are. They seem to be in constant motion, whether looking, finding, “pouching” food or scolding and warning one another. Autumn is one of their busiest times of the year especially when they are harvesting nuts and berries. They are “consummate cachers”. Their food caching and consumption is very diverse, everything from seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, mushrooms, garden bulbs, beetles, grasshoppers, cicadas, mice, slugs, frogs, newts and bird’s eggs. I even watched as a chipmunk consumed a small snake.

The scientific name Tamias means striped and striatus means storer. Of the twenty-plus chipmunks in North America, only the Eastern Chipmunk resides in the Adirondacks or the Northeast. Their coloring is a reddish tan and they have a long black stripe running down their back. On either side of the long black stripe there is a shorter black stripe, then a short white stripe and another short black stripe. Their body length is about five to six inches and their tails are about three to four inches long. They weigh approximately four ounces and run with their tails up straight.

They live in burrows, which are quite complex, and include many rooms. These rooms are for nesting, resting, toileting and for caching food. The burrows may extend downward to three feet and the tunnels may be as long as thirty feet. The nesting room is usually ten inches in diameter and contains a food supply of nonperishable food. The hole into the burrow is round, and about one to one half inches to two inches in diameter. There will be no dirt around the entry hole.

Breeding begins in spring between February and April and again in June through July. The young are born about one month after breeding. The courtship includes nose touching and licking, with rapid tail movements signaling acceptance. The newborns are both blind and hairless. The average litter will consist of four to five kits. By the end of the their first two weeks the babies will be fuzzy, at three weeks they can hear and at four weeks they can see and are also weaned. At six weeks, they begin to leave the burrow and will resemble the adults even though they are only two-thirds of the adults’ size and their tails are rather thin.

Eastern chipmunks are members of the squirrel family (Sciuridae) and the order of (Rodentia) or rodents. Like all rodents they have a pair of continually growing upper and lower incisors in the front jaws. Gnawing on hard nuts and seeds leaves the enamel edge sharp as a blade and also wears away the softer dentine in the back of the tooth.

They are not true hibernators but will generally not be seen several months in the winter. If we have a January thaw I will occasionally see one or two coming onto the balcony to retrieve some sunflower seeds or unsalted peanuts. While wintering in their burrow, they may go through several cycles of semi-torpidity in which their body temperature and breathing are greatly decreased to full torpidity and then back to an alternate state of activity, at which time they will eat and eliminate wastes, all the while remaining in the burrow the entire time.

The amount of food cached in the burrow is an amazing amount considering the size of this tiny animal. The naturalist John Burroughs noted that in three days a single chipmunk stored five quarts of hickory nuts, two quarts of chestnuts and a quantity of shelled corn, which totaled a bushel of food. I can attest to those amounts by the barrels of sunflower seeds and unsalted peanuts diminished throughout the spring, summer and fall. It is sometimes expensive but, it also provides great enjoyment and wonderful photo opportunities.

I still miss Roger and the joy he brought to our family. I learned what great tree climbers they are, and how his continual chipping warned others when a Hawk or other predator was nearby. It was truly sad when we waited his return one spring and realized he was gone, but not forgotten. I sincerely hope that you too have had some wonderful experiences with these tiny critters.


Joan Herrmann has taught and done programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers for about 38 years as a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.

In 2007, she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP). In 2013 and 2014, she did a week-long summer program at BROEP with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC).

Using her love of nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in cataloging all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016, she has written a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls newspaper. You may reach her at jmhphoto8442@gmail.com.