After checking for danger, a white-tailed antelope squirrel takes a break from its busyness and stretches out on the sandstone of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
Like many people, cute animals find a real soft spot with me. It really isn’t fair, but a lizard or turtle just doesn’t create the same emotional response as a cuddly mammal. I rediscovered this character flaw (wildlife biologists are supposed to be immune to emotions when it comes to wildlife) as I watched a white-tailed antelope squirrel scurry about our camp at the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
White-tailed antelope squirrels are the smallest of the ground squirrels, perhaps a smidgen larger than a chipmunk, which it resembles. The white-tailed antelope squirrel has a single white stripe that runs from shoulder to hip on a gray-brown body and a whitish eye ring. Unlike the chipmunk, there is no white stripe on the face or black stripes on the body and the external ear pinnae don’t stick up above the crown of the head.
The white-tailed antelope squirrel sports a short tail, only about half its body length, where that of the chipmunk is as long as its body. This tail is, of course, white on the underside and like all antelope squirrels, it carries the tail arched forward and laid out tightly on its back.
It is its behavior as much as its looks that endear the white-tailed antelope squirrel to anyone who sees it. Because of larger feet, the white-tailed antelope squirrel is a fast and agile runner, faster than the other four recognized species of antelope squirrels. Like a four-legged rocket, it shoots from bush to bush and makes long leaps. It can scramble up a steep rock face, hardly seeming to touch the surface. This frenetic activity likely makes them a challenging target for predators.
All this frenzied running, jumping and scrambling can abruptly stop when the white-tailed antelope squirrel feels safe though, and perpetual motion changes to languid serenity. After standing on their oversized back feet to check for danger, they may stretch out on a rock, acting like sunbathers on a beach, and just as relaxed.
Like many ground squirrels, white-tailed antelope squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They tend to rest during the hottest part of the day, often retreating to their burrows. In the desert environments where all species of antelope squirrels live, many predators are most active at night when it is a little cooler. Daytime activity is an adaptation to reduce predation.
Antelope ground squirrels are omnivorous, with diets following availability of food resources. During the springtime, up to 60 percent of their diet is green vegetation. As summer progresses, seeds and fruits become increasingly important. However, they are also predators themselves, eating large numbers of invertebrates. White-tailed antelope squirrels are even more carnivorous than the other species and will eat small lizards and even baby mice.
As desert dwellers, antelope squirrels are active year-round, not hibernating like many of their ground squirrel cousins. During winter time, they rely on stored seeds for much of their diet but will still forage above ground as needed.
White-tailed antelope squirrels inhabit arid regions from southeastern Oregon to northern Arizona and New Mexico and south through the entire Baja Peninsula. However, in Idaho, they are found only in the far southwest corner of the state, mostly along the Snake River.
We may see the range of the white-tailed antelope squirrel expand north and even eastward with climate change. I would enjoy having these cute little guys a little closer to home.
Help Idaho Wildlife
Sadly, when we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho