The humble chipmunk is so familiar to us in Maine that we take it for granted. They forage beneath our bird feeders, and balance on the Love-in-a-Mist seed heads:
So, we think of them as flower and seed-eaters. And occasionally mushrooms. This puffball has been peeled by a chipmunk, exposing its purple interior:
But not so fast: sometimes they surprise us. This one is eating….
a large black beetle:
He/she ate everything except the odd leg, and then had a good grooming session:
and to my fascination he was clearly eating something he found in his fur. Fleas? Ticks??
I checked, and indeed insects are a known part of their diet.
The second surprise this past week was quite different. Look at these photos, taken by my son on his iPhone just up the road from the house:
Believe it or not, this too is a chipmunk. There have been stories of these melanistic variants popping up in our area, but this is the first one seen round our house. I am hoping to encounter it again. But I do miss the stripes.
PS There seems to be no scientific literature to speak of on melanistic chipmunks, and they are generally said to be very rare. Melanistic squirrels, on the other hand, are widely distributed, particularly in more northern climes. In squirrels, melanism is thought to convey two advantages. First, in dark Northern evergreen forests they may be better concealed in the shadows. Second, they are better at absorbing heat, an advantage in cold climates.