Minnie, Mighty Chipmunks Friday, May 21 2021 

They’re back! Some find them a nuisance, even destructive. Chipmunks dig holes throughout our gardens and take bites out of our plants.

The busy small, striped rodents can also be quite entertaining. Last summer, my resident chipmunk enjoyed dining on my back step. She’d select one of the nearby cherry tomatoes, find a comfy spot, and nibble away.

Chipmunks are the smallest members of the squirrel family. They diet primarily on seeds, nuts, buds, and fruits, but they’ll also munch on small frogs, worms, and bird eggs. They carry their food in cheek pouches into their burrows where they dine–unless they find a safe location, like my patio. Those burrows can be more than 11 feet in length and are kept quite neat. Shells and feces are stored in separate refuse tunnels.

Western chipmunks breed only once a year. However, Eastern chipmunks mate in early spring and again in early summer producing litters of four or five and hibernate through the winter. Newborn chipmunks are 2 1/2 inches long and weigh only .1 ounce! They are toothless, blind, and furless. The wee creatures typically live about three years.

Chipmunks are integral to forest ecosystems as their activities help establish seedlings. These small mammals also consume fungi and disperse spores of truffles which cannot do this on their own. In addition, they are a food source for other mammals and larger birds.

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No Mothballs for Me Wednesday, Sep 17 2014 

Chipmunks rule the land. The cute little critters dig holes all around my house.

My sister suggested placing mothballs—those old-fashioned white, pungent balls grandmas used decades ago—along the perimeter of the house to ward them off. I don’t know how many chipmunks they kept away, but I couldn’t stand the smell and found that I was avoiding everywhere that the mothballs were. I retrieved and tossed them all. Surprisingly, the trash can smelled from them for weeks afterwards.

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide and deodorant used to protect clothes from mold, moth larva, and silverfish. It also may repel snakes, mice, and other small pests. Not only is their smell offensive and overpowering, mothballs pose some serious health hazards. They must be used with great caution around family pets and children.

The ingredients have changed over the years but they continue to be somewhat flammable. They contain a chemical called 1,4-dichlorobenzene. Sometimes packaging lists it as para-dichlorobenzene, p-dichlorobenzene, pDCB, or PDB.

Mothballs are highly toxic when ingested. The US Department of Health and Human Services has determined this ingredient to be a carcinogen. It is a neurotoxin and may cause series illness or death. Large quantities in a basement or living space may also cause respiratory problems.

A better alternative to mothballs may be to spread blood meal or pieces of unchewed sticks of fragrant gum near chipmunk holes.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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