Spermophilus beldingi
(Belding's Ground Squirrel)

Order: Rodentia
Order Description:Rodents
Family: Sciuridae
Family Description: Chipmunks, Marmots & Squirrels

Belding's ground squirrel is gray with reddish to pinkish above, and is distinguished from other ground squirrels by a broad, brown streak running down the back. Their tail is gray with a pinkish cast above, and reddish below with black-tipped hairs; that appears somewhat bushy. Total length is 10 to nearly 12 inches (253-300 mm), tail length is 2 ¼ to 3 inches (55-76 mm), and their weight is 8 to 12 ounces (227-340g).

From eastern Oregon, south through northeastern California, southwestern Idaho, north-central Nevada, and extreme southeastern Utah.

Usually found in fairly open habitat. Inhabits alpine and subalpine meadows, shrub steppeClick word for definition, grasslands, and pastures and croplands.

They feed primarily on grass, leaves of meadow plants, and seeds. Their diet may be less varied than that of other ground squirrels, but they are also known to occasionally eat birds eggs, insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and caterpillars.

They are active for longer periods during the spring and summer than ground squirrels that live in more arid habitats at lower elevations. They hibernateClick word for definition from late September to May or June. They dig underground burrows, or as documented in Idaho, they select used burrows. They live in colonies. In a California study, population densityClick word for definition estimates varied from 1.2 per 2.5 acres (1ha.) in an alpine meadow, to well over 100 per 2.5 acres (1ha.) in an alfalfa field. High population densities may damage range grass and like other ground squirrels they may carry bubonic plagueClick word for definition. They are preyed on by coyotes, hawks, snakes, badgers, and weasels. Interesting altruisticClick word for definition behavior has been observed in Belding's ground squirrels. As a predator approaches, the first individual to sight the predator typically gives an alarm call. Research has shown that the caller is at a higher risk of being preyed on by bringing attention to itself. However, this self-sacrifice or altruismClick word for definition, increases their relatives' chances for survival because their relatives, being closest to them, are the first to hear the alarm call. Research in California has also shown that yearling males and adult females occasionally kill and eat juveniles, a behavior that is difficult to explain.

Breeding occurs shortly after hibernation. GestationClick word for definition lasts 23-28 days. Female reportedly produces 1 litter of 4-12 young, or average of 8 young per/litterClick word for definition. Individuals reach sexual maturity in 2 yr.

Status: Unprotected nongame species

Global Rank:


State Rank:


Important State References:
Hansen, R.M. 1954. The Belding ground squirrel north of the Snake River in Idaho. J. Mammal. 35:587.

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Photos by Bruce Eshelman, © Aug 1979, 2001
Map image provided by Stephen Burton,© 2000
Design by Ean Harker©1999, 2000.