Keeping pet chipmunks in the UK

Notice: Use of undefined constant mainmenu - assumed 'mainmenu' in /var/www/vhosts/super-chipmunks.co.uk/httpdocs/behavior.php on line 66

 

How do chipmunks behave as pets

Before I got my first chipmunk I was curious to know why other pet chipmunk owners often described their pets as fascinating. One of the most intriguing descriptions from one owners site was that they watched their chipmunk for hours, and would rather watch the chipmunk than the television for entertainment. I wondered how a small furry rodent could be so entertaining.

Intelligence

Your chipmunk will constantly surprise you, especially if it's your first one. I still haven't found their limits yet, but they are capable of understanding words and problem solving. I suppose considering how they can work out jumping, sometimes up to eight feet, landing perfectly balanced, must take a lot of brain power. Perhaps you have seen some of the short films where a complicated assault course has been set up for a grey squirrel to reach a peanut at the end of the course. It's also been recently discovered that a grey squirrel can remember where it has hidden up to about 3000 nuts. Chipmunks, being relatives of grey squirrels, must have some of the same intelligence as their larger cousins.

My chipmunk Pickles, an adult male, will spend time watching me from high up, sometimes over days. He will then seem to strike with his plan, normally posting a young chipmunk as lookout. His plans all seem to involve opening what I think are chipmunk proof food containers. Sounds far fetched, well maybe the posting of a lookout, but I could not believe it when I realized he had worked out how to pull a zip open on my rucksack. Just to prove it was not a fluke, he kept doing it, and I caught him at it. Now the rucksack has to be kept in a chipmunk free room. I'm sure given time, Pickles can work out safe cracking, OK that's really is far fetched, but I still think it's very impressive he has worked out snap shut container catches, simple door catches and zips fasteners.

Before Pickles, Sue had no problem prizing off the lids of air tight containers full of seeds. This is why they are often described as cheeky, perhaps.

Main daily activities

Most of my chipmunks tend to be early risers. Coby would often be the first out of his nest, even before daybreak. Very occasionally a chipmunk will not come out of its nest until lunch time, I guess we all have off days. If a usually early riser suddenly changes to hardly making an appearance, this could be a sign that something is wrong. I do have one chipmunk who was having a hard time mixing with the others. He has his own aviary now. When he first went in to his own aviary he was very quite, and only came out of his nest box a few times a day for food. He's making good progres now, and is out of his box most of the day, and seems to have settled in to his new home.

Normally they will get up, probably have a drink, then find somewhere high to perch and start washing themselves. They can seem to take ages washing, licking their paws, then straightening their fur. Almost all mine will also head straight for the food, as if they haven't been fed for days. Mornings and evenings are their most active times. Some, seem to keep active all day, just like the Duracell bunny. Others like to take a sleep around midday, either back in their nest, or high up on a shelf.

The proper name for animals which are active by day and sleep by night is diurnal.

Nuts and seed gathering

This seems to be my chipmunks main activity, stuffing both their cheek pouches with seeds or nuts, then finding a place to hide them. Often they like to go for a run first on their exercise wheels, and then hide their food. There is no limit to the amount of food they will store, if left to their own devices. Apart from their own nests, they will try to hide nuts and seeds in lots of other places around your home. Popular places are coat pockets, under or in carpets, flower pots and especially on their owner. They will try to get under your clothing then scrabble around (no good if you're ticklish), then start ramming seeds in to any suitable crevice. Just when you think they have finished and they have poked you with their nose for the final time, they will try to pat down their stash with their front paws.

Fortunately they only seem to store dry seeds and nuts. Perishable food like fruit will be eaten from the bowl, or taken to a high perch and partially eaten. They only eat small amounts of fresh food, maybe less than half a grape at a time. Once they have enough they just drop the half eaten fruit, and run off. This is the only messy thing they do, just be thankful they don't store rotting fruit around the place.

Interior design

A charming activity to see is when they decide to add more bedding to their nest. They do this frequently at anytime in the year. They like to line their own nests, and will gather up many items of small material, scrunching it up to carry back in their mouths. Both male and female chipmunks do this, but the males, if in a group will sometimes let the female do all the work. Once or twice a year a chipmunk will turf all their bedding out and start again. Even so, best advice seems to be to clean a nest box every six months.

Playing

Chipmunks also like to play, especially when they are young. I think it's really satisfying when you first see your chipmunk playing, either with their siblings or with you. I take it as an indicator that I've got things right, and they are happy with their home and feel relaxed enough to take time out for play.

For example, young Toto likes to play a game like hide and seek, running along the top of the sofa, and hanging on the back just out of sight, waiting for his name to be called. Then she will come charging back to me, only to rush off in another direction to repeat the game. Sue loved being offered the end of a cardboard tube. She would run into the tube about half way along, wait for me to transport her and the tube somewhere different before running out the other end. She looked around as if she had been transported to another world, before running back in to the tube, expecting to be taken somewhere else exciting.

Generally a tame chipmunk will mostly appreciate the attention you give them, and mine can even sulk when I come back after being away for a couple of days. I try not to bother them if their busy though, say when burying nuts or digging.

Digging

This is a must see, all my chipmunks love to dig. This can occupy them for hours, and they will dig themselves completely underground. I provide mine with several large deep pots of potting compost, which they prefer damp.

Relaxing

It's not always rush rush rush, chipmunks like to take a break. They love to sit in the window watching people pass by in the street. If the sun is shining through the window they can lye very flat and doze off to sleep. Most love sunlight and even move positions to stay in the sun. Some of my chipmunks will doze off, either on my shoulder, the hood of my top or down the front of my cloths.

Hibernation

Domestic chipmunks kept indoors will not hibernate, but if kept in an outside aviary they may very well hibernate, although perhaps the word topor would be a better description. Topor is the word used to describe a state where the chipmunk slows its metabolism and respiration for periods of time. Hibernation (or super hibernation) , occurs when the animals' metabolism drops to an even lower state only to awaken when the weather is warmer the next spring.

So a chipmunk kept outdoors make still wake up to eat food mostly within their nests. The only noticeable difference for domestic indoor chipmunks as winter draws near, is their day will start later and finish earlier.

What is hibernation

Gnawing

Chipmunks have to ware down their teeth, as they grow continuously. This seems to happen during the course of their daily activities. I provide mine with plenty of untreated wood, which they can chew on. They often seem to adjust the size of the entrance to their wood nest boxes as well.

Personality

Chipmunks can have quite distinct personalities, probably true of most animals, but quite noticable with my chipmunks. Most of the males seem to have a softer nature towards me than the females. They have always been the first to be tame enough to come on me. One exception has been Sue, who was the daughter of my first chipmunk Coby. I had a close bond with Sue, who trusted me 100%. Even if she was in a bad mood with some of the others, she was always friendly with me, and never minded being touched. She would have allowed me complete access to her babies if I had wanted. Some chipmunks can be relaxed , but the norm is quite active. Some seem to get on very well with others. But the odd one like Izzy can't get on with anyone at this stage in his life. he seems to actively pick fights with the others. As chipmunks can completely change as they grow older, I'm hoping he will calm down, and find his place in the group. He is getting tamer with me, but after months of attention he is only up to taking food from my hand. Still, that's an improvement on running to hide every time I came near him. Perhaps he could be more like Sprint, a female who keeps her self to her self, but doesn't really argue with any of the others. She seems very happy running on the wheels, collecting seeds, and paying me regular visits during the day, to run up my sleeve. She is fascinated when I look as if I'm leaving the home, and will be checking out my bag as I put on my coat. She never tries to run out the door though, she is funny because she is friendly but always so busy. Then there is Snowey, a white male. He often seems to be close to me. He likes to curl up to sleep next to my key board as I type. He's often the last to bed, and when I look up, I find him spookily staring back at me from a high shelf at different times of the day.

Biting

Some potential owners are concerned about being bitten by their chipmunk. I have only been bitten a couple of times, and never seriously. On both ocasions I could completly understand why. Once I was bitten trying to seperate two fighting males, and the second time was trying to usher one male away from another just after a fight. On both ocaisions when the chipmunk releasied he was bitting me, he backed off. I would imagine that if you consider an adult chipmunk can easily bite through the shell of a nut, they could give you quite a nasty bite if they meant to. That's why I know he backed off, and didn't consider the bites serious. During and just after a fight a chipmunk will still be cross, and adopt an angry posture, tail swishing etc.. If you startle or suprise a chipmunk, it may well go to bite you, but mine have always stopped short, seemingly just wanting to give a warning. or perhaps they reliased in time it was my hand. There are times when you have to pick up and hold a chipmunk in your hand. I don't do this very often, only to find out the sex, to check why one has developed a limp or to make sure their teeth are growing correctly, for example. When you have a chipmunk in your hand they will wriggle to escape, and turn their heads from side to side sometimes opening their mouths as if to bite, but so far they never have. I softly talk to them continusly, repeating their name, and try to hold them for no longer than necersary. Some owners say they wear gloves if they have to handle their chipmunks. I don't personally like the idea of gloves. I think chipmunks are so small and delicate, I like to know that I have holding them just tight enough to stop them escaping. I think with gloves on I would not have the same sense of grip presure, and it would could be a strange feeling for the chipmunk causing addtional stress. Chipmunks are big on scents, so if you wear gloves they cannot smell who is holding them.

If your getting bitten often by your chipmunk, I would respectfully sugest you modify your behaviour. Perhaps your movemnets are too quick, or you are forcing your chipmunk to be freindlier than it wants to be right now. Respect thier space, talk to them first. Only move your hand towards them when they can see it comming, not downward from above them, and if they back away, let them.

Being bitten, is not something you should be worried about with chipmunks. I can't see they would ever bite like the ferret bit TV presenter Richard Whitely on that famous out take. He had a ferret bite his finger and refuse to let go. That would be enough to put anybody from owning a rodent, and I don't think chipmunks have it in them to bite with such ferocity.

Fighting

This is of great concern to many owners, and not very nice for the chipmunks either. I'm going to publish a separate page on this subject, as it is so common, and distressing for both owners and pets. Chipmunks can fight to the death, so it makes it very important to get the balance of a group just right. No matter if chipmunks have been brought up together as siblings, from time to time there will always be squabbles. But squabbles are quite different from fights, squabbling is normally to establish who is higher in the pecking order of a group of chipmunks. A squabble normally lasts less than a minute, and once the less dominant chipmunk as moved away it will stop. Fighting is where they chase each other all around the place, and if catching up with one another, go in to a fierce ball of rolling fur. If you are witnessing fighting you must take action to stop it happening, as it can lead to serious injury or even be fatal.