Ground Squirrel Vs Tree Squirrel: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: February 16, 2022
Image Credit Virginie Merckaert/Shutterstock.com
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Figuring out the difference between a ground squirrel vs tree squirrel might seem simple on the surface. Yet, differentiating between these animals requires paying a little more attention to the intricacies of the animals. After all, many ground squirrels will still spend time in trees, and tree squirrels are certainly seen on the ground. How can you tell them apart? Let us show you six simple ways that they are unique from one another.

Comparing a Ground Squirrel and a Tree Squirrel

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel

A-Z-Animals.com

Ground SquirrelTree Squirrel
SizeWeight: 3.5lbs-18lbs
Length: 18.5in-27.5in
Weight: 0.5lbs-2.8lbs
Length: 3in-12 in
Color– Brown or grayish brown
– Helps to blend in with dirt colors
– May have stripes on the body, but not around the eyes like chipmunks
– Gray, brown, black, and red
– Typically has a cream-colored stomach
SocializationLive in large colonies with complex social hierarchiesTypically nest alone, but they may group up in harsh conditions
HabitatBurrowsNests in trees
TailHave a thin, less bushy tailHave a large, bushy tail
Pest TypeExterior pest often responsible for garden destructionInterior and exterior pests that will eat fruit from trees and damage home interiors by chewing wires and more.

The 6 Key Differences Between a Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel

fox squirrel stretched out on tree branch
Tree squirrels differ from ground squirrels in size, color, tail style, and more.

JustPixs/Shutterstock.com

The greatest differences between a ground squirrel vs tree squirrel are their size, color, and habitat. Ground squirrels are larger than tree squirrels on the whole. Ground squirrels can reach weights of 18lbs and lengths of nearly 3ft on average, but tree squirrels only tip the scales at a quarter of that weight.

Tree squirrels are red, gray, black, and brown with cream-colored underbellies, but ground squirrels are gray or brown. Ground squirrels use their coloration to hide from predators and blend in.

As their name implies, many ground squirrels live in burrows, but tree squirrels live in nests that they construct inside of tree trunks or in other protected areas off the ground.  

Another important difference is that both ground squirrels and tree squirrels are umbrella terms for many different species of animals. Ground squirrels include marmots, groundhogs (also known as woodchucks), prairie dogs, and more. Tree squirrels include typical gray squirrels and the giant black squirrel! Over 200 species of squirrel are alive in the world today!

These are the most significant differences between these animals, and we’re going to go into greater depth for each.

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel: Size

Most ground squirrels are larger than tree squirrels. Ground squirrels can weigh between 3.5lbs and 18lbs, and they grow up to 27.5in in length. Tree squirrels can weigh as little as half a pound, and they often max out their weight at 2.2lbs or slightly more while growing a maximum of 12in long, including their tails.

Although the ground squirrel group may include some species like chipmunks, the fact is that it also includes marmots and other large creatures. For example, the Olympic marmot can grow about 3.5ft in length, over a foot longer than most of the largest ground squirrels. Needless to say, you won’t confuse that creature with a common gray tree squirrel!

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel: Color

Happiest Animals_ Squirrel
Ground squirrels will often have stripes on their bodies and light areas around their eyes, but the stripes stop at their backs.

EcoPrint/Shutterstock.com

Most ground squirrels are brown or gray in color while tree squirrels are gray, brown, red, and black with a cream underbelly. Ground squirrels need those colors to blend in with dirt and other natural features to avoid becoming dinner for a hungry eagle.

Many ground squirrels also have additional patterns in their fur. Some of them have stripes running down the back of their fur, but the stripes do not continue onto their head like chipmunks. It’s much easier to confuse certain species of ground squirrels for chipmunks than it is to mistake them for tree squirrels.  

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel: Socialization

Many species of ground squirrels are social animals that live in large colonies with a social hierarchy, but tree squirrels mostly live alone. Depending on the species, the ground squirrel colonies can number in the dozens.

However, tree squirrels don’t want to share their resources with other animals, so they’re mostly loners. If the weather is bad enough for a long time, they might group up to survive.

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel: Habitat

Tree squirrels are known for making their nests in trees while ground squirrels make burrows for themselves and others. Tree squirrels will make a nest in high, out-of-the-way areas that are hard for predators to spot. They will use the hollows of a tree trunk or even move into attics and other areas populated by humans.

Unsurprisingly, ground squirrels live in burrows or other places that keep them hidden from predators.

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel: Tail

White Animals - White Squirrel
Tree squirrels have long, bushy tails!

Christine Bird/Shutterstock.com

Tree squirrels have long, bushy tails that help distinguish them from many other rodents. However, ground squirrels have more subdued tails that are not nearly as bushy. In fact, they resemble the tails of many other non-rat rodents.

Thus, if you see two squirrels in your yard and one has a large, bushy tail and the other does not, you can quickly tell them apart.

Ground Squirrel vs Tree Squirrel: Pest Type

Squirrel Poop vs Rat Poop - Squireel Poop
If you find several of these pellets indoors, you have a squirrel in your home.

stockphotofan1/Shutterstock.com

Lastly, ground squirrels are outdoor pests, but tree squirrels are indoor pests. Ground squirrels are omnivores that will gladly eat just about any fruit-bearing plant in your yard along with your favorite vegetables and flowers. Tree squirrels will do the same thing.

The main difference is that the tree squirrel is the only one that will move into your home. They will often climb into places like attics and live in the comfortable, insulated interior. In the meantime, they will leave piles of squirrel poop and gnaw on wires, causing a plethora of issues for the hapless homeowners.

The differences between a ground squirrel vs tree squirrel are numerous. Ground squirrels are way bigger on average, tend to be gray or brown, and live in colonies with a distinct social structure. However, tree squirrels are known for their large, bushy tails, various colors, tree-based habitat, and propensity for becoming an indoor pest.

Knowing these facts, you should be able to distinguish a ground squirrel from a tree squirrel with only a cursory glance!

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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