Nature Nugget – The Eastern Chipmunk

The chipmunk’s name—Tamias—means the steward or one who lays up stores. It is an appropriate name for this industrious worker. With remarkable foresight, the animal lays aside provision for times of scarcity. During the days of autumn, the striped bundle of energy labors from dawn until dark, finding and storing nuts away in its winter warehouse underground.

Beginning in early spring the chipmunk has been diligent about its business. It has outgrown the protection of its mother’s den and is preparing a home of its own. This will mean many days of hard work, but work isn’t a problem for this energetic animal.

It has taken care to choose a location and dig its burrow, making a tunnel two inches in diameter that will reach a depth of five feet. At the greatest depth, the base of the tunnel, the chipmunk constructs its excrement chamber. At a higher level it will dig as many as six additional storage compartments, the contents of which will take all summer to fill, holding as much as a bushel of food.

A short distance from the pantry lies the master bedroom. The chipmunk takes special care to choose the material for its bed and the right day on which to make it. If the day is too wet, the leaves won’t dry. If there is no humidity in the air, they become too brittle and break. The chipmunk prefers oak leaves for its thickness and fragrant smell. First, the stem is bitten off. Then, using its teeth and forelegs, it rolls up the leaves and brings them to the burrow bedroom. The slightly damp leaves make a perfect mattress.

In the steps it takes to ensure the safety of its burrow, the little chipmunk is also methodical and remarkably orderly. When the chipmunk digs its tunnel, it deposits the excess dirt outside the hole. Once the tunnel is complete it digs another entrance, being extremely careful not to leave any tell-tale signs which would betray its location.

Finding an ideal spot among a pile of rocks for its secondary entrance, it disguises the exit and is particular to take the excavated soil a considerable distance away so as not to disclose the whereabouts of the opening. With this completed, it plugs the original entrance, carrying away any evidence of digging. An escape route is then constructed, engineered so meticulously that vegetation all the way up to the edge of the entrance is untouched.

The industrious chipmunk completes its project by late fall and is ready to enjoy a long rest which would confine it to its burrow until early spring. The chipmunk can rest, content that it has made every provision for its safety and comfort in its orderly confines.

Excerpts from Character Sketches, ©1976, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, 266–270.

Work, for the night is coming,

Work through the morning hours;

Work while the dew is sparkling,

Work ‘mid springing flowers;

Work when the day grows brighter,

Work in the glowing sun;

Work, for the night is coming,

When man’s work is done.


Work, for the night is coming,

Work through the sunny noon;

Fill brightest hours with labor,

Rest comes sure and soon.

Work till the last beam fadeth,

Fadeth to shine no more;

Work, while the night is darkening,

When man’s work is o’er.

“Work, for the Night is Coming,” Anna L. Coghill, 1854.