Richardson's Ground Squirrel

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Richardson's Ground Squirrel
Spermophilus richardsonii

 By heritage-pets.com

Peek a boo
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I see you

Richardson's ground squirrels are known by a variety of names, including gophers, prairie gophers, yellow gophers, picket pins, flickertails, and Tawny American Marmots.  They are a member of the squirrel family in the order Rodentia.  

 

Richardson's ground squirrels ( commonly referred to as RGS) make their home in the northern plains of the USA and on the southern Plains of Western Canada, where in many areas they are considered pests by ranchers, farmers and golf course owners. In some places a bounty is offered for their tails or they are poisoned on mass.  Although many western farmers consider them pests there are as many people who admire them for their pet qualities and for their ability to form such strong bonds with their owners.  Although most Richardson Ground squirrels do not live more than a year or so the wild, in captivity, with proper care, they have been known to live as long as 6- 7 years.

 

Most RGS are gray or a light blondish gray above, tinged with brown and buff their under parts appears more of whitish or pale buff colour.  Their tail is edged with white or buff; light brownish or buff below. In recent years their have been a few other colours being worked on jet black and more recently a very light blonde is being worked with.   These new colour morphs are relatively new and they are still very uncommon and both of these new colour morphs are equally as striking and beautiful.  Richardson’s Ground Squirrels are about 283 to 337 mm in males and 264 to 318 mm in females. Their tails vary in length from 65 to 88 mm in males and 55 to 82 mm in females and only weigh between -1 lbs. They are a diurnal animal with a fairly extensive vocabulary consisting of a variety of vocal signals and they use body movements to signal dangers and changes to their current behavior. All of which we as pet owners need to learn to recognize and to respect.

 

When caring for a ground squirrel, most of the needed can be found at local pet stores. Large cages designed for rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and chinchillas are often suitable to use to house an RGS. Besides the cage you will also need to provide a heavy non tip food dish, a medium sized water bottle, aspen wood shavings for bedding and a few varieties of nesting material such as shredded paper toweling, clean bird feathers and organic dried leaves and grasses for nesting. Being that Richardson’s’ enjoy tunneling you should allows provided them with large PVC tubes and a hut that they can use to build a den.

 

They should be fed a staple diet of organic timothy hay, a bit of commercially prepared rodent blocks, supplemented daily with raw sunflower seeds and small animal mix grains, fresh vegetables and on occasion  the odd vegetable based dog biscuit is okay. Timothy  hay needs to be available at all times  but the rest of the extra uneaten food items  should be removed regularly  and again…it should only be offered in limited quantities! …‘We humans often equate food with love and through our well intended generosity we can sometimes kill our pets with kindness’… Richardson’s gain weight easily! Obesity may very well be the number one problem with keeping RGS’s in captivity.

 

A Very Rare Black Richardson's Ground Squirrel
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she has very striking, shimmering, black fur

The Richardson's ground squirrel is sexually mature at approximately one year of age and the Female ground squirrels are in estrus for only one day and mating occurs about three to five days after they emerge from torpor (hibernation). Mating may occur above ground or in the female's burrow and given the opportunity many females will mate with several males which results in multiple paternities of the litters and helps guarantee genetic diversity within the colony.  After the female has bred she will devote much of her time to collecting nesting materials and excavating her tunnels and nest area.  Males play no part in rearing offspring and the female will tolerate the presence of any males, not even their mates.

 

The female usually gives birth in April and May, in her burrow or nest and six to eight weeks, the pups emerge from the den ready to learn foraging techniques from other adults.

 

If you are considering keeping a Richardson’s’ Ground Squirrel as a pet, it is important that you understand that these are highly social animals and form extremely tight ‘bonding’ relationships with their caregivers. They need a committed owner who can play with them and interact with them on a daily basis and they do not adjust well if they need to be re-homed.

Muldar
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an extremely rare blonde RGS

A young pair of Richardson's Ground Squirrels
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normal colour

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Muldar again
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blonde RGS

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