Chipmunks vs Squirrels: Key Differences and Similarities

Squirrels and chipmunks are a common objective of confusion. If you feel like you have no idea what is the difference between these two, you are not alone.

They simply look very similar. Also, they both belong to the same family of Sciuridae. This type unites all the medium-sized rodents including tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and woodchucks. However, there are several very important distinctions between these two.

In this article, we will discuss how squirrels and chipmunks differ and how to recognize each one.

Comparing chipmunk vs squirrel (+pictures)

Squirrels and chipmunks are different in major ways. They have different appearances, lifestyles, and habitats. We could sum up their key differences in the following areas:

LifespanUp to 5-6 yearsUp to 12 years
LocationMainly North America, partially Europe, and AsiaNorth and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia
HabitatMainly in wooded areasForests and fields
HibernationPartial hibernationDoes not hibernate
Size and LengthAround 4-7 inches and 1-5 ounces5 to 36 inches and up to 4 pounds

Once you know the major differences between these two, it is not hard to differentiate them. One of the easiest ways to figure out which rodent it is, try to look at its appearance: ones with bushy tails are squirrels while chipmunk has a smaller tail.

Comparing chipmunk vs squirrel


chipmunk vs squirrel


Chipmunk vs squirrel – how to identify them?

Squirrels and chipmunks have visible differences as well behavioral ones. If our perception of these animals were not so intertwined, you might not even have thought of them as similar.

Generally, squirrels are heavier and bigger than chipmunks. Additionally, they live in completely different places.

First, let’s dive into the major characteristics of each rodent and then move on to the biggest differences.

Characteristics of a squirrel

Squirrels are very cute rodents and you might love them because of various cartoons. If you like squirrels, then you might consider celebrating Squirrel Appreciation Day. If you don’t like them, just stick with this article and find out countless reasons for appreciating these small animals.

According to National Geographic, there are more than 200 squirrel species in the world. However, they cannot be found in Australia.

The Squirrel family unites different types of small rodents. Squirrels can be very different according to their categories:

Tree Squirrel

Tree SquirrelIs the most popular and biggest one of the squirrels. You can see them in the woods as well as in the urban areas. Tree squirrels are the ones you might have seen in the parks. Tree squirrel is an amazing climber that gets most of its food from the ground.

Ground Squirrel

Ground squirrels are the ones that are commonly mistaken with chipmunks. Especially, thirteen lined ground squirrels that have stripes and look very similar to chipmunks. Alternating stripes of ground squirrels range in color which is not the case for chipmunks. They have seven dark brown stripes and six tan stripes.

Unlike other squirrels, ground squirrels live underground and may eat insects, small animals, and even young birds. Just like other squirrels they also eat nuts. Ground squirrel hibernates fully, it spends several months of cold season underground.

Flying Squirrel

The name of flying squirrels derives from their ability to glide from one tree to another. They do not actually fly but they glide very impressively which most squirrels cannot do. Additionally, they tend to live like birds. They like making nests and living in the trees.  Their appearance is very similar to tree squirrel but the ability to glide is a clear distinction between these two.

If you still have second thoughts about squirrels, remember that according to National Wildlife Federation, squirrels have contributed a lot of trees to the forests of the U.S. While this contribution is accidental, we still cannot forget its impact.

Characteristics of a chipmunk

Characteristics of a chipmunkChipmunks are Sciuridae family members. They are small furry animals. Overall, there are 25 species of chipmunk out of which 24 can be found in North America. The only type of chipmunk that does not live in North America is the Siberian chipmunk or Eutamias Sibiricus.

Like ground squirrels, some chipmunks live underground. However, as National Geographic reports they can also make a home in nests, trees, and logs.

Chipmunks eat nuts, berries, fruits, and grains. They can also feed on insects because they are categorized as omnivores. Furthermore, chipmunks store food under bushes, in areas with rocks and logs. They do this to hide food from predators.

These members of the Sciuridae family hibernate, although their way of hibernation is different. These small creatures do not store fat but sleep for a short period of time and then eat their available food supply. Chipmunks hibernate in holes or burrows.

Chipmunks are solitary and do not communicate with one another much. Chipmunks ignore fellow members of their species unless it is a mating season that takes place in spring.

Biggest differences between chipmunks and squirrels

Appearance: Chipmunk VS Squirrel

Chipmunks have brown, black, and white stripes while squirrel has grey or brown color without stripes. Only ground squirrels have stripes that vary in color and give this animal a dotted appearance.

Squirrel has a long bushy tail and overall, it is a bigger representative of rodents. On average, a bushy tail adds 10 inches to the overall length of a squirrel. Chipmunks have shorter tails and short fur. Overall, they are very easy to differentiate according to appearance once you know the signs.

Habitat: Chipmunk VS Squirrel

Chipmunk’s habitat has a wide range. They can live in forests, mountains, and even deserts. This is why chipmunks may feed on small snakes in addition to nuts, insects, and plant material. Habitat squirrels live in parks or wooded areas.

Diet: Chipmunk VS Squirrel

Diet Chipmunk VS SquirrelBoth of them eat nuts and seeds. Although chipmunk is more versatile and feeds on berries and insects. Their diet includes various snakes. Chipmunks love to store food and eat whatever is the most available.

Squirrels mainly feed on nuts, sometimes insects but not very commonly.

Frequently asked questions

Are chipmunks friendly?

Unfortunately, chipmunks are very unfriendly creatures. However, you do not need to worry. They mainly run away from humans because they feel danger. We would advise you not to provoke chipmunks because their bite is quite painful.

Are squirrels friendly?

Squirrels are way friendlier than chipmunks. Naturally, as animals, they are also protective of themselves and if provoked will turn to defense mode. Although, overall they are very friendly and you can even train them to come close to you and feel safe in your company.

Can chipmunks mate with squirrels?

No, they are simply incompatible. Moreover, they do not really pay attention to one another. Even though they are members of the same family they barely deign to recognize each other even in close proximities.

Are chipmunks and squirrels related?

Squirrels and chipmunks while not the same are related. You can imagine them as distant cousins who had a common ancestor 20 million years ago.

Final thoughts – are chipmunks and squirrels the same?

No, squirrels and chipmunks are not the same. They are both small mammals, with similar lifestyles but at the same time key differences. We could say that chipmunks are more close to ground squirrels. They have similar daily lives, preferred habitats, and appearances.

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