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Siberian Chipmunk
Tamias sibiricus

Last edited: October 3rd 2019

Siberian Chipmunk - Tamias sibiricus

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Short description of Tamias sibiricus, Siberian Chipmunk

Chipmunks are small, brown members of the squirrel family, less than 25 cm in total length, with a bold pattern of pale stripes across the face and along the back.  There are more than 20 species, but the Siberian chipmunk is the only one commonly kept as a pet in GB.

Impact summary: Tamias sibiricus, Siberian Chipmunk

Outside GB, chipmunks are sometimes reported as important predators of low-nesting birds, and may compete with native woodland mammals. They consume many forest nuts and can damage grain crops and destroy garden plants and the bulbs of rare wildflowers.

Habitat summary: Tamias sibiricus, Siberian Chipmunk

Chipmunks inhabit coniferous and mixed boreal and temperate forests with a rich undergrowth of berry-bearing shrubs, as well as steppe and open areas. They often occur also in parks, gardens and cemeteries.

Overview table

Environment Terrestrial
Species status Non-Native
Native range Siberia, Russian Far East, China, Mongolia, Kazan-retto, Nansei-shoto, Ogasawara-shoto, North Korea, Kazakhstan, Russia Central, Russia East, Russia North, Russia Northwest, Russia South
Functional type Herbivore
Status in England Non-Native
Status in Scotland Non-Native
Status in Wales Non-Native
Location of first record ?
Date of first record 2004

Origin

The native range extends throughout the Eurasian taiga zone, from Finland and westernmost Russia (Karelia) eastwards to eastern Siberia, Japan and eastern China.

First Record

Escapes and releases are known to have been occurring in GB since at least 1999, when one was found in Yorkshire.  Although most have been quickly recaptured or killed, some animals have remained at large for several months.

Pathway and Method

Chipmunks are commonly imported to Britain for the pet trade, and some may escape or be deliberately released.  Releases due to vandalism have included 70 animals in Berkshire in 2005 and 20 in Sussex in 2009.

Species Status

Introduced populations exist in Belgium (four populations, one with 18,000 animals in 2000), the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France (ten populations), Italy (three populations) and Austria. At least in the main Belgian site there may be a negative impact on ground-nesting birds.

Dispersal Mechanisms

Data from France indicate that populations spread relatively slowly, at rates of 200–250 metres per year, at least in the first decades after introduction.  The related American species is known to cross open areas up to 400 m wide and to use hedgerows as corridors linking more distant patches of habitat.

Reproduction

Breeding is normally in spring, after hibernation.  Chipmunks live in simple shallow burrows underground.  Burrows may be up to 9 metres long and have chambers for nesting, larder and defecation. 

Known Predators/Herbivores

Several chipmunks have been caught by domestic cats and trained hawks in GB, and may be particularly susceptible to predation in this country. Wild raptors, owls and foxes may also be significant predators.

Resistant Stages

Within the natural range, Siberian chipmunks hibernate from autumn until early spring. Animals living in warmer climates may remain active for most of the year, entering a torpid state during unfavourable winter weather.

Habitat Occupied in GB

There are believed to be no Siberian chipmunks living wild in GB.

This species occurs in its native range from the coast up into mountains, as far as the tree line.  No introduced populations exist in GB but the species thrives at similar latitudes on the near Continent.

Environmental Impact

In the largest non-native population, in Belgium, predation by chipmunks may be significant for ground-nesting birds.  They may compete with small native woodland mammals, such as red squirrel, wood mouse and bank vole.

Health and Scoial Impact

Chipmunks may be vectors of various diseases and parasites, including rabies and Lyme disease, but pose no particular threat to public health.  Damage to gardens occurs in urban and suburban areas.

Economic Impact

In Russia, chipmunks consume around half the production of forest nuts.  They can cause serious economic damage to grain fields and to orchards.

Identification

Harris, S. & Yalden, D.W. (2008) Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook. Fourth edition. The Mammal Society, Southampton.

Biology, ecology, spread, vectors

Bertolino, S., Currado, I., Mazzoglio, P.J. & Amori, G. (2000) Native and Alien Squirrels in Italy. Hystrix, 11, 49–58.

Chapuis, J.-L. (2005) Répartition en France d’un animal de compagnie naturalisé, le Tamia de Sibérie (Tamias sibiricus). Revue d'Ecologie la Terre et la Vie, 60, 239–253.

Verbeyen, G. (2001) Investigation of the Asian chipmunk in De Panne (Belgium). Summary of project on www.squirrelweb.co.uk/articles/aliens

Management and impact

Forstmeier, W. & Weiss, I. (2002) Effects of nest predation in the Siberian chipmunk on success of the dusky warbler breeding (Abstract). Zoologicheskii Zhurnal, 81, 1367–1370.

Wittenberg, R. (ed) (2005) An inventory of alien species and their threat to biodiversity and economy in Switzerland. CABI Bioscience Switzerland Centre report to the Swiss Agency for Environment, Forests and Landscape.

General

Long, J.L. (2003) Introduced mammals of the world: their history, distribution, and influence. CABI & CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.

Mitchell-Jones, A.J., Amori, G., Bogdanowicz, W., Kryštufek, B., Reijnders, P.J.H., Spitzenberger, F., Stubbe, M., Thissen, J.B.M., Vohralík, V. & Zima, J. (1999) The Atlas of European Mammals. T. & A.D. Poyser, London.

Tsytsulina, K., Formozov, N., Shar, S., Lkhagvasuren, D. & Sheftel, B. (2008) Tamias sibiricus. In IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>.

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/62788

http://www.nonnativespecies.org/downloadDocument.cfm?id=58

Alert status

Siberian Chipmunk, Tamias sibiricus is an Alert Species

Find more information about this alert and the full list of alert species.

Spotted this species?

Find out how to record your sighting.

Map of the UK with areas shaded to show the UK distribution

Distribution map

View the Distribution map for Siberian Chipmunk, Tamias sibiricus from NBN Atlas

Legislation

Siberian chipmunk, Tamias sibiricus, is a Species of Special concern. Read more about Non-native species legislation.

Horizon scanning

horizon scanning exercise conducted in 2019 identified this species as one of the top 30 non-native species most likely to become invasive in Britain over the next ten years.