As their name suggests, rock squirrels (Otospermophilus variegatus) prefer rocky habitats, such as cliffs and canyons, in semiarid climates. They can also be found in rock walls, bridges, and old houses in urban areas.

Rock squirrels are common throughout their extensive geographic range in the southwestern United States and Mexico, stretching from Utah, Nevada, and Colorado in the north to Pueblo, Mexico, in the south. They can live in elevations ranging from sea level to 2,900 meters (9,500 feet). 

Although they look very similar to tree squirrels, rock squirrels rarely climb trees, and they typically build burrows rather than nests. Their diet consists of plant materials, such as fruit, seeds, and nuts, as well as insects and earthworms. They will also sometimes eat meat.

Rock squirrels live in colonies with a dominant male and several subordinate females. Female rock squirrels give birth once a year, and sometime twice a year in warmer locations. Though they are active all year in most of their range, they may hibernate in upper elevations, where it is colder.

  1. Rock squirrels can be found in urban areas. How might this ability to adapt to new habitats be helpful to the species?

    • Answer

      Urbanization often encroaches on animal habitats. If the rock squirrel can adapt to these urban areas, they will likely be less affected by habitat loss than species that cannot adapt.

  2. Rock squirrels live in burrows in the ground. What are some other animals that burrow?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary. Some common burrowing mammals include moles, voles, groundhogs, and rabbits. There are also a few birds that burrow, such as puffins and kingfishers. Reptiles and amphibians, such as some frogs and snakes, burrow, as do some invertebrates, such as worms, clams, and insects.

  3. Compare a map of the rock squirrel’s range with a map showing deserts in North America. Do these areas overlap? Would a finding such as that be expected? Why or why not?

    • Answer

      The range of the rock squirrel does overlap significantly with the four major deserts of the western and southwestern United States and Mexico. Since the rock squirrel prefers semiarid lands, which are usually found along the outside edges of arid regions, such as deserts, this make sense.

burrow
Noun

small hole or tunnel used for shelter.

colony
Noun

group of one species of organism living close together.

dominant
Adjective

main or most important.

Noun

height above or below sea level.

geographic range
Noun

distance at which a specific light (such as that from a lighthouse) is visible to the naked eye.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

hibernate
Verb

to reduce activity almost to sleeping in order to conserve food and energy, usually in winter.

semiarid climate
Noun

(dry climate) region that receives between 25 and 50 centimeters (10-20 inches) of rainfall every year.

subordinate
Adjective

lower order, class, or rank.