Managing 13-lined ground squirrels can be difficult
MACOMB, Ill. — This past spring, I found myself at a friend’s house enjoying some barbeque on the back deck. He remarked on the issue they had with ground squirrels burrowing all over their yard and landscape beds. Later in the year, a phone call came into the office of a landscaper confounded at what was happening to the trees and shrubs of a client’s yard. With an address that sounded familiar, I headed over to see if we could unravel this mystery.
I found several shrubs and groundcovers, namely creping juniper, that had significant dieback at this home. With no sign of disease on the foliage, we parted the branches to reveal stems and branches devoid of bark. Distinct chewing marks were present implicating this was the work of a small rodent. But what type of rodent?
Looking up the street, I saw my friend’s home where I enjoyed some great BBQ a few weeks before and remembered his comment on ground squirrels. I asked “Have you seen any ground squirrels lately?”
‘Oh yes,” replied the homeowner. “Every morning we see them.”
Not a minute went by and a 13-lined ground squirrel ran right across the homeowner’s shoe. Yup, I think we have a culprit.
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) are common in Illinois home landscapes as they prefer short-cut lawns that they can see over the top when standing on their hind legs. Golf courses, cemeteries and parks are all great settings for thirteen-lined ground squirrels. True to its name, the 13-lined ground squirrel has 13 prominent alternative light and dark stripes on their back and sides. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels average 11 inches long, including a 5-inch tail.
While these little guys will gnaw on wood plant stems, they feed mostly on grasses, weeds and seeds. Thirteen-line ground squirrels are a particular pest of crop seed in both farm fields and vegetable gardens. They are not very territorial, so in areas of abundant food and habitat, you have several families living nearby. The neighborhood of the aforementioned homes just so happens to back up to a golf course, thus creating a perfect opportunity for a ground squirrel population explosion.
Controlling 13-lined ground squirrels can be difficult but there are a few options:
- Ground squirrels are an essential part of the food chain. Predators like hawks and snakes will help you in managing their numbers. In other words, don’t kill every snake you see in your yard.
- Hardware cloth can also be installed around garden beds 18 inches above ground and 6 inches below ground to keep them from digging up vegetables.
- There are no repellents registered in used in Illinois.
- Lethal rat-sized snap traps are efficient. Set up the trap near the ground squirrel hole and cover with a small box to prevent harming other wildlife.
- Live traps can be baited with seed. While a permit is not needed to move trapped thirteen-lined ground squirrels, you do need permission of the landowner where they are to be moved. Additionally, Illinois Extension does not often recommend the relocation of wildlife as that can be an even more cruel outcome than proper euthanizing.
Thirteen-lined ground squirrels hibernate in the winter; therefore, any gnawing damage you see during that time is often caused by another troublesome rodent – the vole.
Good Growing Fact of the Week: Another species, Franklin’s ground squirrel, is listed as threatened in Illinois. They look like gray tree squirrels but prefer taller vegetation like prairie to dig their burrow, making them les common in home landscapes.
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