Feeding ecology and diet

Morphologically, the ground-dwelling squirrels are herbivores, however, nearly all of the ground-dwelling squirrels have omnivorous diets to a degree. The diet of some squirrels, such as the chipmunks, are composed primarily of seeds and nuts while the diet of Spermophilus and Marmota species tend to be composed of mainly grasses and forbs. However, fungi, berries, shrub, and tree buds are important items in the diet of many species. Several species will raid bird's nests for eggs or chicks, and kill and eat small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Insects are a small supplement for many species but the Nelson's antelope squirrel will eat primarily insects during the dry season.

Himalayan marmots (Marmota caudata) watch for predators. (Photo by Harald Schütz. Reproduced by permission.)

A black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) threatens an intruder. (Photo by Karen McGougan. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Black-capped marmot (Marmota camtschatica) with a cub near its den in the Lena Reserve, Russia. (Photo by L. Veisman. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Townsend's chipmunk (Tamias townsendii) nibbles on a wildflower in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. (Photo by © Darrell/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

Yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) exploring abondonded farm equipment, Montana, USA. (Photo by E & P Bauer. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Many of the hibernating species, such as Spermophilus and Marmota, forage intensively during the summer to store fat, sometimes doubling their mass before entering hibernation. Chipmunks hibernate, but most tend not to store fat; instead they cache nuts and seeds that they will access periodically throughout the winter.

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