Meet your neighbors: Rock Squirrels

By Rick LoBello, Board Member

Like in many cities, different species of wildlife have adapted to living in El Paso. Birds and squirrels are probably the most obvious.   Did you know that the most commonly seen squirrel in El Paso is the rock squirrel? Other squirrel species include antelope ground squirrels and spotted ground squirrels.   I see the antelope ground squirrel most often when I visit Franklin Mountains State Park and watch for wildlife from the bird blind along the Nature Trail.  I am not a golfer, but when I do visit a golf course I often see spotted grounds squirrels.  They seem to prefer wide open spaces with plenty of grass like at Chamizal National Memorial.  

Rock squirrels can be seen almost everywhere there are rocks.  Don’t you just love animals that live up to their names like the Canyon Wren singing in a canyon, the Rock Wren sitting on a rock and the Cactus Wren perched on a cactus?

At the Zoo rock squirrels can be seen almost anywhere including near the Franklin Canal Bridge and in many of our exhibits dominated by both artificial and real large rocks.  Oftentimes like pigeons, doves and crackles, rock squirrels will go into the exhibits in search of food given by keepers for our animals.

When you go hiking one of the best trails to see a rock squirrel is along the trail to Cottonwood Spring at Tom Mays Park.   The rock talus slope is home to this long-tailed rodent that looks similar to the fox squirrels many are familiar with east of here.   Rock squirrels have adapted to living in the desert and have been recorded going without fresh water for 100 days.  When food is scarce they will enter a state of estivation, sleeping away the stressful period in a cool spot under ground often under a pile of boulders.

Just the Facts

Otospermophilus variegatus

Range – Southwest United States and Mexico

Up to 21″ in length

Grayish in color with a busy tail with white on the edges and a white ring around the eye.

Live in colonies with several females.

Up to two litters per year of three to nine young in each litter.

Diet includes plant materials and some invertebrates.

Photos taken at Tom May Park in El Paso

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