What’s a spotted ground squirrel?
Hey, I had to ask. Cochise County, Arizona, most certainly has them, but neither my wife nor I knew that till a little guy with giant cojones turned up just outside my office window this spring.
Which is pretty amazing, considering that (a) Pam had spent 20 years raising her kids in this county back in the day and (b) we’d been living on this specific acreage for more than three years when the first sighting happened.
At first, we didn’t know whether to be thrilled with our new sighting or extremely worried. After all, if that, uh, big white sack thingie was a birth tumor or infection from an injury or something, he was in trouble.
Turned out he was less babyish than we’d thought (due to his teeny size, bigger than a mouse but way smaller than, say, a packrat). A teenager or young adult, then. And the oversized sperm factory is normal for them in the breeding season but shrinks back down to something more portable (inside the abdomen) after their work guaranteeing the continuation of the species is done for the year.
Humorous note: I’m no Latin expert, but it looks like the scientists who named the spotted ground squirrel Xerospermophilus Spilosoma knew what they were doing. Not sure about the “Xero” part, but the rest of it? If that’s not “sperm love spill body”, it should be.
How long would he last near the Border Fort? No way to tell. Probably the most deadly eater of burrowing rodents in this area is the snake in all its forms, not to exclude the ultra-venomous Mojave green rattlesnake.
Before long, though, we had not one but two Little Guys chowing down out there. Brothers? We thought so.
The brothers hung around for a few days…and then disappeared. We had no clue. Had they been eaten by bigger beasties? Moved on to greener pastures? Gotten itchy feet and just dragged those Ziploc sperm containers on down the line somewhere?
We didn’t know then, and we don’t know today. After a flurry of photo ops for a week or so, the sightings ceased altogether.
But then, a month or so later, here came a (*gasp!*) Little GAL spotted ground squirrel. She’s still around, though we don’t see her every day…and when she first showed up, she was as pregnant it’s squirrelly possible to be.
What a delight to watch eat. She was of course eating for ten (or however many) and deeply appreciated the bowl of sliced carrots and celery we put out every evening for whoever comes by.
I’ve never seen another man, woman, or wild critter show as much sheer orgasmic pleasure in the contemplation of food as this little sweetheart does.
A true connoisseur rather than a thoughtless glutton, this squirrel girl takes her time. She checks out the bowl (above) before climbing in and making her selection (below).
Little Gal was definitely pregnant and showing when these photos were taken, but there was no doubt when she made her appearance a few days later. Spotted ground squirrels have a short gestation period, just 24 days.
We were pretty sure she was getting ready to pop.
Then…she disappeared. In the wild, especially with vulnerable little critters like these, you can’t tell whether she got served up as lunch to a snake or hawk or simply settled down in a burrow to have her babies.
In this case, happy happy, she’d simply gone off to have the kids. Little Gal showed up again a couple of weeks after her disappearance, light as a feather, quick as lightning, obviously hungry, and overall one visibly happy camper.
Unfortunately, her appearance that time was too brief and she was moving too fast for me to get a photo. But we knew all was well with her, and that’s what counted.
Fast forward to August 25, 2012, when we spotted her spending some quality time with our herbs and grasses that populated the French drain’s outlet pit and ditch this year.
One thing above all was clear: Little Gal had become a matron.
Well, her movements seemed a touch more casual. She’s filled out some, recovered from the strains of pregnancy no doubt. She’s obviously nursing with all 10 dugs (that’s “teats” to you rookies).
And she couldn’t care less about the food bowl.
With the grass seed heads full of provender, she seemed to really like those and spent some time grazing on her hind feet. We knew spotted ground squirrels could easily stand erect like humans. We did not know they can just as easily walk like humans, which she did while grazing.
This little furry marvel is no elitist, though. For a while, it was all about the grass, especially the seed heads. Later, she located some other greenery she liked every bit as well…and she had a high old time munching down a little beetle that sports an irridescent black shell
They say (the “official” spotted ground squirrel sites) that these rodents spend much of their time hibernating. In the spring, the previous year’s babies are usually the first to appear above ground.
We can’t wait.