[Spermophilus varigatus]

By Tom McDonald

Ladies and Gentlemen!  Here in this corner, weighing in at 1.5 lbs. is the Sonoran Desert native rock squirrel! 

One of the largest North American squirrels, its coat is speckled grayish–brown, lighter in front than the rear, giving it a cape-like look. The bushy tail is as long as its body with white edging.

Named for their favorite habitat of rocky areas with low vegetation, these critters will also gladly burrow under your foundation or concrete slab. 

Active during the early morning and evening, the rock squirrel forages for mesquite seed pods, insects, cactus fruit, and even hunts birds and their eggs.

During the heat of the day, they hang out in their extensive, complex burrow system. Squirrels in the northern part of their range will hibernate during the colder months, however, those in the south may actually estivate during the hottest periods. 

Social animals, they can be found in colonies of several females and one dominant male, who has earned his right to lead by defeating other mature males. There may be subordinate males on the fringes of the group.

My experiences with the rock squirrel have been ‘rocky’ to say the least. My first encounter was two weeks before my daughter was to be married. An unmistakable odor of decomposing rodent perfumed the master bath, soon to be the site of pre-wedding cosmetic activity. Upon further sniffing, it was determined the only course of action was to cut a hole in the drywall and pull it out. The ‘it’ turned out to a dead rock squirrel which had evidently followed the plumbing pipes into the crawl space under the tub.

Since then, I have had to block these pesky, persistent critters from digging under my pool deck and house foundation, climbing on the roof, as well as the constant battle of keeping them from storing mesquite bean pods in our tool and parts bins. Too crafty to get caught in a normal rodent trap, we have had some success with electric traps and sonic chasers.

The rock squirrel has a unique and fearless way of dealing with snakes. Upon spying an approaching snake, the squirrel will stamp its feet while swishing its tail back and forth. If that strategy fails to deter the snake, the squirrel will push soil and sand into the snake’s face!

Spunky little guy.