A beginners guide to chipmunks
Chipmunks are rodents first and foremost, they are related very loosely to Squirrels both red and grey and are a joy to keep as pets when domesticated but should be viewed as something that even today is semi wild despite the number of breeders around the UK.
I first came across chipmunks some 20 years ago in a pet shop inside a small(I now know inadequate) cage three of them doing back flips almost continuously.My children at the time were fascinated and as is the case in most pet purchases it was a case of NEED ONE.
I'm happy to say the first thing that I felt was NEEDED was more information, something not easy to find pre-internet, the only book I could find was a small publication from America which described the various species native to the USA and the Latin names of goodness knows how many varieties, there are several species and sub species but as a pet owner it is not altogether necessary to know what they are as there are only three main types available to own here in the UK and one variation which is rare.
AGOUTI or brown/grey chipmunks are the most common colour. it is the natural colour of the Siberian or western chipmunk depending on who is writing the information they tend to have grey/brown coloured fur on the head, mostly grey around the neck and chest and dark stripes running from the shoulder to the rump where they tend to be slightly lighter in colour and can vary wildly when they are younger being almost ginger within the first six weeks.
DILUTE or white unlike Albino's of any creature these chips are a natural occurring part of the subspecies they are indeed white allover except for the slight light brown stripes which in some light can not be seen certainly not from a distance, the way they can be distinguished from an albino is the colouration of the eyes is a normal brown/black as opposed to pink within the albino.
CINNAMON Not so widely known as yet but there is a campaign on going within a couple of internet communities to make them more available they are a ginger variation of the Agouti having a much lighter pigment to their fur again it is a natural subspecies with the colour gene being fixed within them so as to keep the trait relevant.
BLACK.... there are I know one or two living within the UK but as to where they came from or how stable their genes I am unsure at the moment but they appear to be an opposite variation of the Dilute which has not enough pigmentation so these have excess pigmentation, I liken them to a black cat with regards to stripes as if you look closely enough at any black cat(domestic) you are able to see stripe variations so it is with the Black chipmunk.
So what do they need to keep them happy and healthy and what kind of things will you need to do to be an owner of one of these delightful creatures.
First thing to think about is housing, these little things just love space to climb and jump as well as burrow in the wild they spend most of their day foraging along the floor for seeds nuts berries or even earthworms, wax-worms whatever they can get protein from they will eat, they also spend a large apart of their time sitting high for both safety as lookouts and to take time to re-arrange the food they have stored in their pouches which are in their cheeks and can make them look as if they have mumps.They will use nest boxes as they would use old stumps of trees or hollows in branches to sleep and breed but much prefer if possible to dig underground where they can have a mass of tunnels in which to hibernate.
Having said all that what best suits them in a domestic situation, Indoors a cage must be as large as you can possibly get I would say the minimum for a single chipmunk should be 1m high 1m wide and1/2m deep, built from twill-weld mesh with a secure doorway, the inside should have old branches or polls a nesting box possibly a plant pot with compost(do not fill to the top) and cardboard or plastic tubes along with a hammock for starters. this small size however I would only have if I was able to allow the chipmunk free range of whatever room he/she was in. I don't mean 24/7 just the time when you have the time to spend with them in the room because if you were to leave them alone for too long just like children bad things would happen to your furniture and fixtures and fittings. Although not aggressive in the sense of attacking anyone or thing for the sake of it they are equipped with razor sharp teeth strong jaws comparative to their size and needle like claws with which they can climb most things including flock wallpaper.
Outside is a different matter, being rodents they are quite well adapted to the UK climate and will live quite happily in a purpose built aviary. Again I would stress size matters, the larger you can build the more fun not only for the chipmunks but also the more time you will want to spend with them.Construction of an outdoor aviary or munkery should be approached with the chipmunks abilities in mind. As they are adept at borrowing then a strong base is needed either flags or concrete if you wish but i prefer Twill-weld on a wooden frame directly onto the ground to allow things to grow through it. Sides and roof also should be twill-weld so in fact what you need to create is a giant wire cube of however large you want it.Most people also include what they call an airlock which is a double door entrance to keep the chips in when they go in to feed or play with them.
It is best to cover at least half of the roof area with waterproof materials and to protect the sides from prevailing winds where possible. An easy way to build is by having an old shed conversion 6x4 or 8x6 whatever but ensure that the inside is completely meshed over as they will chew through the wood and make a bid for freedom.
In my own I have a bench so that I may spend time with them along with the grandkids, as for playthings i use old drain pipes rope chains and branches for them(the chips) to climb on in or over along with numerous nesting boxes which they tend to share or squabble over depending on the time of year.I also have a large strawberry pot filled with compost for them to bury things in.
Feeding chipmunks..... they will eat most things you offer them in the rodent diet mixes you can get from any pet store but personally I use parrot mix for the base and mix it with hamster/rabbit mix along with extra peanuts which they love. In season fruit is always welcome along with live meal-worms wax-worms and even the occasional bit of cat or dog food the main thing to watch out for is if they start to eat far too many nuts as like all animals they will behave like children with sweets and eat only what they want, this can lead to a calcium deficiency so placing calcium tabs in the water may be a good idea as is mineral blocks which they will because off their curious nature lick. Remember though they will also hoard food for the winter, regardless of how much food you make available they will empty the pot come autumn time and you will find their nest boxes crammed with seeds and nuts, unless they are going mouldy I tend to leave them alone as it is their security blanket as well as a way of keeping warm.
BREEDING chips not a hard thing to do for chips but strangely stressful for a lot of owners, chip females are available to re-produce three days at a time on a fortnightly cycle usually around end of January to mid April, when she is ready she will call out continuously for a 24 hour period or not. if the male and female live constantly with each other the male will of course know when she is in season and will mate(like most species he will always try all year round if he can) if the mating is a success then there is no need for her to make the call for a mate,However if she is calling then you must wait 14 days to see if the union has been consummated for if she is not pregnant she will call again that is why it is so stressful for most new breeders as they have no idea of the female is pregnant for sure until the later signs of swollen stomach or teats enlarging.
BROODS are normally between 4/10 average is 7 this is Dependant on a lot of factors such as how many times the female is mated and at times by how many different males the babies are born pink and helpless totally dependent on mother until 5/6 weeks when they will first venture out of the nest they then continue to suckle up to 8 weeks while out and about exploring.
Handling from an early stage is recommended to let the chips adapt to human contact which tames/teaches them that human contact is not a bad thing this in turn makes them more appealing to new owners who are looking for something a little exotic but nothing like a tarantula.
I hope some of this information has been useful to you in helping to make your mind up on whether you wish to be a chipmunk owner.... for more detailed info try this......