Outdoors: Federation squirrels

Jul 3, 2020

The rodents that thrive in dry sandy fields at Interlochen are called thirteen-lined ground squirrels. At least, that’s what we call them now.

Around Independence Day, I like to recall their original common name: federation squirrels.

These grasslands creatures have thirteen stripes, alternating dark and light, that are interspersed with little dots that look rather like stars.

When our nation was quite young, explorers named the previously unknown Midwestern species "Federation Squirrels" because the pattern of their markings reminded these patriotic naturalists of the flag.

Ground squirrels do more in less time.

They don’t awaken from hibernation until the snow is gone, and at first are busy making burrows and nests. And apparently breeding, too, because in early summer, the young are born and are often seen popping up above ground.

Unless the summer is cool and moist like last year, grasses dry up by August. The roots and soil insects on which they feed become scarce.

Ground squirrels adapted to this annual crisis. If during these two months they have built up enough body fat reserves, they merely go into hibernation in mid-August and sleep for ten months. 

Usually, Federation Squirrels are active only when campers are at Interlochen. But I am assuming on July 4 even this year, the stars and stripes of the  ground squirrels will be unfurled.