Richardson's Ground Squirrel
The Scottish naturalist Sir John Richardson (1787-1865) published the first official scientific description in 1820, giving it the binomial, Spermophilus (sper-mo-fill-us, "seed lover") richardsonii (richard-SO-nee-eye, "of Richardson"). Lewis had written his brief account of the new species on February 25, 1806:
This ground squirrel was, Lewis added, "found in every part of the country, as well the praries [and] woodlands, and is one of the few animals which we have seen in every part of our voyage. it differs not at all from those of the U' States."
Its overall length, including a two- to three-inch tail, is only 11 or 12 inches. It thrives on roots, leaves, and seeds of native grasses and forbs, as well as those of many domestic garden plants. Its eyes are set high in its skull to enable it to scan the sky for predators such as hawks before emerging from its burrow.2
Its erect pose at the portals of its extensive burrows, prompted by some potential threat, has earned it the nickname "picket pin," from the iron peg driven deep into the ground to which horses – especially the mares – are sometimes tied at night to prevent them from straying.
1. Tamiasciurus douglasii, commonly known as Douglas's squirrel, or chickaree.
2. Tanner's ooze, properly owster (Webster, Compendious Dictionary, 1806) is a dye concocted of oak bark and water in which animal hides are soaked to give them an even shade of brown.
3. Adrian Forsyth, Mammals of North America: Temperate and Arctic Regions (Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 1999), 102-3.
Supported in part by a grant from the Montana Cultural Trust.