A quick get-away

Spring must really be here.  Aside from the fact that it’s sunny and warm again today, there’s another sigh.  The little Eastern Chipmunk that lives under my building has been out and running through the bushes again.  I often get to greet him when I leave in the morning, or when I take my recycling bin out to the street.  He likes to perch on the edge of a wooden planter.  Any time that I’ve approached him, he’s definitely got me in his sights and will wait until I’m 10-15 feet away before taking off.  That distance is called his flight-initiation distance (FID) and it’s something that’s been studied in many groups of animals.  But this posting isn’t about FID’s.  It’s more about where he goes!  I’ve seen him bop off into several different burrows around the building.  I had assumed that those holes were his home burrow entrances, but they are, apparently, more likely to be escape burrows that are not connected to his actual home.  And his relatively low FID might be explained because these little chipmunks are very familiar with their own territories.

Clarke, M.F., K.B. da Silva, H. Lair, R. Pocklington, D.L. Kramer and R.L. McLaughlin. 1993.  Site familiarity affects escape behaviour of the eastern chipmunk, Tamias striatus. Oikos 66: 533-537

These researchers (and that’s a lot of people to study such a little chipmunk) took chipmunks out of their territories and measured how long it took them to get to cover when facing a perceived threat and compared it to the time it took when they were on their own territories.  Chipmunks are always faster when they’re in their own territory.  And really, that’s not such a surprising thing to find.  I mean, when I go grocery shopping at my normal store, I can get things done fairly quickly because I know which aisles I need and which ones I can skip.  If I go shopping at a new store, it always takes longer to find the same sets of things because the arrangement is different.  Ok, so the chipmunk results aren’t all that surprising, but hang on…this difference means that these cute, fuzzy little guys have a spatial memory of their own locations (in much the same way we do).  It means they recognize and remember where things are in their own territory.  Now, if only I could remember how to find the parking lot entrance to my friend’s place uptown instead of having to circle the block each time I go, I’ll be on par with the chipmunks!


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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