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Squirrel, Harris’s Antelope

Harris's Antelope Squirrel at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Taz Motoyama

Scientific Name: Ammospermophilus harrisii

The Harris’s antelope squirrel will survey its domain by sitting up on its hind feet, and when disturbed, runs with its tail straight up while uttering “chipperings” as it scurries to its burrow.

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Harris’s antelope squirrels are diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day. Even extreme heat doesn’t stop them from scampering through their territory because they have a higher body temperature (97-107 degrees Fahrenheit) than any other non-sweating mammal and they cool themselves by salivating. These tiny creatures have also been observed laying down in a shaded area and spreading their legs out, presumably to lose heat.

Although not endangered, the Harris’s antelope squirrel is losing portions of its habitat to human development.

The dry deserts and rocky hills of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico are home to this squirrel. Since there are few trees in this region, these animals are ground dwellers who live in burrows usually located under a desert shrub or near a sheltering rock. They have several burrows in their range of approximately 15 acres, one containing a nest and the rest used as escape hatches.

These omnivorous squirrels feed on seeds, cactus fruit, plant stems and roots, insects, mice, and carrion. Food is carried in the creatures’ large cheek pouches and stored in their burrows or under rocks.

Weighing around ¼ of a pound and standing about 6 inches tall, these squirrels have no size differences between the sexes. Often mistaken for chipmunks (which live at higher elevations), Harris’s antelope squirrels have long necks, slender bodies, a white stripe along each side of its body and a white ring circling each eye. Their upper body hair is mouse gray in winter and lighter during summer, while their underbelly is white and the undersurface of their bushy tail is black and white. They hold their tails over their backs to shade themselves. Well-designed for digging in the dirt, these squirrels have strong claws and small ears set lower on their heads than those of tree squirrels.

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