Birds, Beasts and Botany in Bergen by Robert Griebel


Richardson Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus richardsonii):
Growing up on the prairie, sighting the first robin and the first gopher were always sure signs of spring’s arrival.  I grew up calling Richardson Ground Squirrels “gophers” and still feel most comfortable referring to these little creatures by that term.  Technically however, the term gopher refers to pocket gophers and their kin, while Richardson Ground Squirrels are members of the squirrel family and are hence related to prairie dogs, marmots (the largest members of the squirrel family), chipmunks, tree squirrels and flying squirrels.  They were named after Sir John Richardson, a remarkable Scottish surgeon and physician who accompanied Franklin on two arctic expeditions. Richardson was also a keen naturalist who documented and studied wildlife on the Canadian prairies in the early 1800’s.
The appearance of the Richardson Ground Squirrel is, I’m sure, familiar to all readers of this paper. The animals are approximately 30 cms. in length and their weight varies from 200-400 grams in the spring, to almost twice that weight by fall, when fat stores have been laid on.  The animal’s constantly trembling tail has earned it the name “flicker tail” south of the border. Although most animals have a dark brown coat above and a light tan belly, there is considerable variation in shading, as anyone who has visited the Torrington Gopher Museum will have noted.  Albinos are rare, but do occur.