Chipmunks are the smallest members of the Sciuridae family and there are 25 different species of this cute animal. Chipmunks have much in common with their slightly larger cousins, Ground Squirrels and Tree Squirrels, but their smaller size makes them quite different in many aspects of their lives.
One difference between the different members of the Sciuridae family is lifespan. Some species of Tree Squirrels have been reported to live up to 18 years (see How Long Do Squirrels Live for more information). But what about the small guys? How long do chipmunks live?
The lifespan of a chipmunk is about 2 to 5 years depending upon the exact species and environmental conditions. In captivity, where the animals have plenty of food and are protected from predators, some species of chipmunks are reported to live up to 11 years. Let’s take a look at the factors that impact the lifespan of chipmunks in more detail.
What Factors Affect the Lifespan of a Chipmunk?
There are several things that can reduce the lifespan of a chipmunk. These include:
- High levels of predation
- Unfavorable weather conditions
The primary factor that determines how long a chipmunk lives is the level of predator activity. Regardless of which species we are talking about, most chipmunks do not survive a full year because of attacks by predators. Most chipmunks are independent from their mothers about two months after being born. These newly independent critters are highly vulnerable to attack and are a steady part of many predator’s diets.
Chipmunks have a complex communication system to warn each other, and especially their own relatives, of incoming predators. The individuals that are lucky enough to escape predators will typically live for several years until they die from cold weather or disease.
Some of the diseases that chipmunks are likely to suffer from include Metabolic Bone Disease, Upper respiratory infections, and tooth problems. Metabolic bone disease usually occurs because of calcium deficiency. If a chipmunk consumes nuts and seeds that are high in phosphorus but low in calcium, then they are likely to suffer from a calcium deficiency. Symptoms of metabolic bone disease include lethargy, loss of fur, loss of appetite, and bone fractures. This disease can be hard to reverse, so if you happen to have a pet chipmunk that shows signs of Metabolic bone disease, then consult a vet immediately.
Tooth problems include tooth loss, misaligned teeth, and overgrown teeth. These can create a problem as the chipmunk will not be able to consume food and can starve to death.
Many species of chipmunks undergo a mild form of hibernation to survive winter. In general, they enter a state of torpor but wake up every week or so to eat some stored foods and eliminate waste.
Severe weather events in the Spring or Summer can reduce the amount of food available for chipmunks to store for Winter feeding. A severe Winter can overwhelm the chipmunks ability to withstand the cold.
Specific Examples of Chipmunk Lifespans
All of the information below is referenced from the species information sheets on the Animal Diversity Web.
Eastern Chipmunk: In most cases, an Eastern chipmunk may not survive more than 2 years. However, the ones who persevere have been known to live for up to 8 years in the wild. They tend to live for 8 years when held in captivity as well. Both males and females reach sexual maturity after a year.
Siberian Chipmunk: Their lifespan is limited to 2 to 5 years in the wild. However, it can increase to 6 to 10 years when they are held in captivity. There have been several reports of pet Siberian chipmunks that lived for 10 years and longer. These chipmunks reach sexual maturity at 9 months.
Long-Eared Chipmunk: There is little information available regarding the lifespan of the long-eared chipmunk. However, given the information available on other types of chipmunks, it can be inferred that these chipmunks live for 8 years in the wild. However, this is only if their living conditions continue to remain unfavorable. As per a study published in 1999, 90% of these chipmunks do not live longer than 5 years.
Alpine Chipmunk: An Alpine chipmunk’s lifespan is considerably shorter than other species of chipmunks. They can survive up to 2 to 3 years in the wild. Another source suggests that they can live up to 5 years in the wild as well. There is no information available about their lifespan in captivity.
Townsend’s Chipmunk: The lifespan of Townsend’s chipmunks is considerably long. As per some reports, these chipmunks have been known to live for 9.3 to 10.2 years in captivity. Their lifespan in the wild is between 2 to 7 years. Most members have an average lifespan of 5 years in this case. Their survival is said to be limited because of lack of food. This can also have an impact on the rate of reproduction. These chipmunks take up to a year to reach sexual maturity.
Palmer’s Chipmunk: The lifespan of these chipmunks is largely determined by the level of predation, favorable weather conditions, and the availability of food. They have a typical lifespan of 1 to 4 years in the wild. This is slightly shorter than other chipmunks. These chipmunks also reach sexual maturity at 10 months.
The Hopi Chipmunk: The Hopi Chipmunk can have a lifespan of 2 to 8 years in the wild. However, their mortality rate is high and most of these chipmunks will only live up to 2 to 3 years. Only 10% of these chipmunks cross 5 years in the wild. However, if they are kept in captivity, then their lifespan can increase and they can live between 5 to 9.5 years. Females reach sexual maturity at 10 to 12 months, while males will reach sexual maturity at 10 months.
Allen’s Chipmunk: These chipmunks can live for up to 8 years in the wild. They tend to live even longer in captivity and can survive up to 11 years in this case. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at 10 months.
The Lodgepole Chipmunk: The Lodgepole chipmunk has a very high mortality rate. These chipmunks usually live for a year. Factors such as predation and weather conditions play an important role in determining their lifespan. For instance, many of these chipmunks end up freezing to death during winter. However, if conditions remain favorable, they can live up to 4 years in the wild. If held in captivity, they can live up to 5 years. These chipmunks reach sexual maturity in 10 to 12 months.
The lifespan of a chipmunk is usually between 2 to 5 years. The lifespan of some species can also go up to 8 or 10 years. Most chipmunks will live longer in captivity than they do in the wild. This is largely due to a lack of predation and the availability of food. A chipmunk’s lifespan can also be reduced if it develops metabolic bone disease or suffers from tooth problems.