Chipmunk vs Squirrel: 7 Main Differences Explained

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: October 16, 2023
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Key Points

  • Both part of the Sciuridae, chipmunks and squirrels share similarities but are also quite different.
  • Squirrels are larger and longer than chipmunks, one of their main differences.
  • A key difference between chipmunks and squirrels is their living quarters.

Chipmunks and squirrels are members of the Sciuridae family. Furthermore, they look and act a lot alike. But there are several differences between these two rodents. For one, squirrels are longer and heavier than chipmunks. Also, squirrels and chipmunks have hair that differs in color and pattern.

While squirrels usually live in trees, chipmunks live in a burrow with a series of tunnels. Though they are both known to eat nuts and seeds, chipmunks have a few more items on their menu! Are ground squirrels and chipmunks one and the same? Squirrels and chipmunks belong to the same family, but do they get along with each other? Check out the answers to these questions along with other interesting facts!

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Comparing Chipmunk vs Squirrel

Keep in mind there are three types of squirrels in the Sciuridae family:

  • Tree squirrel: This is the largest squirrel out of all three types. It’s known for its bushy tail and long body. It doesn’t have any stripes on its coat.
  • Ground squirrel: A ground squirrel looks a lot like a chipmunk. They are about the same size and have stripes on their fur. Not surprisingly, they are often mistaken for chipmunks. But, if you look closely, the stripes on a ground squirrel continue up the back and onto their head. A chipmunk doesn’t have stripes on its head.
  • Flying squirrel: This squirrel has a special membrane attached to its wrists and ankles that allows it to glide from tree to tree. Though its general appearance is simliar to a tree squirrel, its ability to glide makes this squirrel very different from the other two types.

Meanwhile, there are over 10 types of chipmunks who live in different regions of the world, including:

  • Yellow-pine chipmunk
  • Siberian chipmunk
  • Hopi chipmunk
  • Long-eared chipmunk
  • Eastern chipmunk
  • Alpine chipmunk
Size0.5 ounces to 4 pounds1 to 5 ounces
LifespanUp to 12 yearsUp to 6 years
HabitatParks, woodlandsDeserts, mountains, forests
BodyLong body, long bushy tail, no stripesShort body, bushy thin tail, stripes
DietNuts, seedsNuts, seeds, berries, insects
Length9-12 inches3 to 5 inches
DistributionWorldwide except Australia and AntarcticaNorth America, parts of Asia and Europe

The 7 Key Differences Between Chipmunk and Squirrel

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Size

Squirrels are larger than chipmunks. A squirrel’s body measures from 9 to 12 inches in length. They have a tail that can tack on another 12 inches to their total length! Alternatively, a chipmunk’s body is from 3 to 5 inches long. Its tail adds another 3 to 5 inches to its total length.

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Appearance

A chipmunk has brown fur covering its body. However, this rodent is known for the black and white stripes on its back and sides. A squirrel has gray or brown fur on its back and head along with white fur on its belly. It doesn’t have any stripes.

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Habitat

Squirrels live in woodlands or parks. They build their nests inside of trees or high up in the branches. Their habitat serves as a place to have their young as well as shelter from predators. Chipmunks live in deserts, forests and sometimes in the mountains. Specifically, they live in burrows that feature a series of tunnels. These small rodents can make tunnels where they have their young, store food and hide from predators. In some suburban areas, chipmunks may use underground drain pipes as their very own tunnel system!

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Diet

Both of these members of the Sciuridae family eat nuts and seeds. However, one difference is chipmunks also eat berries and insects. As a note, squirrels sometimes eat insects, but they’re primarily considered herbivores whereas chipmunks are categorized as omnivores. Like other animals, these rodents will eat whatever food is most plentiful in their habitat.

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Lifespan

Tree squirrels can live up to 12 years in the wild whereas chipmunks have a lifespan of up to 6 years. Scientists believe squirrels have a longer lifespan because they are agile and can escape by going up trees where most predators aren’t able to follow. Chipmunks live in the ground and are easier for predators to capture. In addition, chipmunks have a longer list of predators.

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Hibernation

Chipmunks go into a partial sleep during the winter. This means they sleep for a few days, then go out to look for food and get rid of waste. Alternatively, squirrels spend the autumn adding fat to their body and storing food, so they don’t have to sleep or hibernate over the cold weather months.

Chipmunk vs Squirrel: Distribution

There are over 200 species of squirrel, and they live throughout the world. In fact, Australia and Antarctica are the only places where they are not found. Alternatively, most chipmunks live in North America in a range spanning from Canada to Mexico. The only exception is the Siberian chipmunk living in Asia and in some areas of Europe.

Are Chipmunks More Destructive Than Squirrels?

Squirrel lies across a flower pot in front of a bird house

If only squirrels stuck to the outside, raiding bird feeders, they may not have such a bad reputation.

©Tony Quinn/

You may be dealing with one, or both, of these critters on the grounds of your property. Which varmint is worse when it comes to property damage?

Certainly, chipmunks are problematic because they dig holes and create burrows in your yard, sometimes around a house’s foundation. One or two doing this will not affect the overall safety of the house. However, if multiple chipmunks burrow under the house and continue to expand their burrows, it can weaken the structural integrity of the home. Chipmunks also feed on bulbs and seeds in gardens and flower beds.

On the other hand, squirrels are infamous for raiding bird feeders and are the more likely of the two to find ways into a house’s attic. They do this both for shelter and to store food. So what’s the big deal in a cute little squirrel taking up residence in the attic? They are chewers, and will not refrain from nibbling on wood, plastic, plastic siding, insulation, and even electrical wires. They also tend to get trapped in chimneys from time to time, which is not a welcome problem to have to deal with.

Of the two, squirrels are the animals you should make sure have no entryways into your house.

Summary: Chipmunks vs Squirrels

The main differences between a chipmunk and a squirrel are:

  • Size and appearance
  • Habitat
  • Hibernation
  • Behavior
  • Diet
  • Lifespan
  • Distribution

While they are part of the same family and share similar qualities, these are two very different animals.

The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can chipmunks mate with squirrels?

No. They are not compatible with one another.

Do chipmunks and squirrels get along?

The answer is somewhere between a yes and a no. Normally, these two rodents don’t interact with one another. Though they are members of the same family, they usually ignore one another if they are found in the same area.

Why are chipmunks called ground squirrels?

It’s incorrect to refer to a chipmunk as a ground squirrel. They are two different types of rodents. However, it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart because they look very similar.

One difference between these two rodents is a chipmunk’s ears stand up on its head while a ground squirrel has tiny ears that lay flat. Another difference is a ground squirrel’s stripes go up onto its head whereas a chipmunk only has stripes on its back.
Also, chipmunks usually live in forests while ground squirrels live in areas of grassland.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.