Meet the Mojave Ground Squirrel

The Mojave ground squirrel is a small, nimble ground squirrel found only in the western Mojave Desert. This desert ground squirrel has evolved to be able to survive in the harsh desert environment and, as such, is highly elusive and difficult to track and observe. However, they’re not only challenging to observe because they’re skilled at desert hide-and-seek, but also because the Mojave ground squirrel habitat has been degraded as a result of development, agriculture, military activities, energy development and even off-road vehicles. Climate change poses a growing threat to the ground squirrel habitat, as rising temperatures could imperil their the Joshua Tree seeds that are a major part of the ground squirrel diet. As such, the Mojave Desert ground squirrel is listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species act and as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. However, this species of desert ground squirrel is not yet listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

desert tortoise and cactus

Mojave Ground Squirrel Facts

  • The Mojave ground squirrel life span is between 5 and 8 years.
  • Although they’re listed as being omnivorous, the ground squirrel diet is mostly made up of seeds, fruits, fungi and other plant life. Although they will eat the occasional caterpillar when they encounter one.
  • Although we’re accustomed to seeing squirrels in trees, Mojave ground squirrels live in the ground in burrows. These ground squirrel tunnels help them escape both heat and predators.
  • Unlike animals that go dormant during the cold winter months, Mojave ground squirrels hibernate starting in the hottest part of the summer until February.
  • While they prefer to stay quiet much of the time, Mojave ground squirrels do occasionally emit a low, shrill whistle or a high-pitched peeping noise.
  • They like to sun themselves. Elusive though they may be, Mojave ground squirrels have been observed basking in the sun during the early hours of the day, rotating their bodies to ensure they get warm all over.
  • Once they’ve basked thoroughly, these desert ground squirrels spend the rest of their day eating—they eat constantly and continuously until an hour before sunset.
  • The Mojave ground squirrel is indeed very cute in appearance.

Mojave Ground Squirrel Conservation

Because of the threats to Mojave ground squirrel habitat, they are a focus of conservation efforts. With the desert becoming attractive for large-scale renewable energy development, the risk to the ground squirrel population is growing. Conservation strategies include habitat protection and management, using best-available and most-current science to formulate conservation plans, monitoring the species to guide further in-depth research, and designing outreach and education programs to inform stakeholders and interested parties about the Mojave ground squirrel and its future. 

desert tortoise and cactus