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The Secret Love Of Ground Squirrels

Posted on: May 07, 2021 / BCC Blog-News / 0 COMMENTS

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by Kirsten Haltman

For many species of animals, parental care is a relatively low priority; the trade-off of expending energy to care for something else when that energy could be used to care for self is not enticing. This is why we see species like turtles yield a high number of offspring – evolutionarily, they can justify spending less time caring for their young because, since the clutch size is larger, there’s a chance that at least a few of the offspring will survive to adulthood and continue that particular genetic line. In contrast to this, mammals have arguably some of the highest levels of parental care of most any animal taxa. Female mammals take on the burden of pregnancy, often with long gestation periods (such as the 22 month gestation period of the African bush elephant), and take on the majority of the parental care when compared to males, with males contributing to parental care in only about 5% of animal species.

Photo by Steve Smith

An example of this mammalian maternal care can be found here on the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. In early spring, California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) begin their breeding season. Mothers give birth to clutches of up to 11 pups, and, because ground squirrels are known to mate with multiple individuals, the clutch may have multiple paternity. Ground squirrel young are helpless at birth, and do not open their eyes until around 5 weeks of age, and are completely reliant on their mothers during this time – based on behavioral observations, male ground squirrels provide no parental care. Mothers will even move their entire clutch of pups between burrows to avoid predation! Once the pups open their eyes, they begin to slowly explore the world around them, but still rely on their mothers to help them avoid danger from predators.

It’s often said there is no greater warrior than a mother protecting her child. Be it human world or animal kingdom, the phrase stands true.

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