Found in the Arctic and Subarctic of North America and Asia. Arctic ground squirrel is mostly identified as Urocitellus parryii; or, in Inuktitut: ᓯᒃᓯᒃ, siksik.
People in Alaska, particularly around the Aleutians, refer to them as “par’kee” squirrels. Most likely because they are easy to snare, shoot or trap. There pelt is also relatively easy to skin. Those little firs bridge together good, for the attractive collar on many jackets and clothing.
There are 10 Subspecies:
U. p. ablusus Osgood, 1903
U. p. kennicottii Ross, 1861
U. p. kodiacensis Ross, 1861
U. p. leucostictus Brandt, 1844
U. p. lyratus Hall and Gilmore, 1932
U. p. nebulicola Osgood, 1903
U. p. osgoodi Merriam, 1900
U. p. parryii Richardson, 1825
U. p. plesius Osgood, 1900
U. p. stejnegeri J. A. Allen, 1903
(Source wikipedia jan 2023)
Arctic squirrels have a beige and tan coat with a white-spotted back. There face is a little shorter with small ears, a dark tail and white markings around its eyes.
From summer to winter there coats change to red and yellow colorations, along with the cheeks and sides of the animal. In the fall, these patches are replaced with silverish fur.
Size: The average adult length is around 39 cm (15 in). Adult females are close to 750 g (26 oz). Males are around 100 g (3.5 oz) heavier. Because of the cold and sometimes sparse climate, is difficult to give a year round average mass.
‘Par’kee’ or the “t’sik-t’sik” thriling squirrels are native to the arctic tundra. Mountain slopes, river flats, banks, lakeshores and tundra ridges. They live in sandy soil due to easy digging and good drainage. The shallow burrows are in areas where the permafrost does not prevent them from digging. Arctic squirrels can excavate near the permafrost. And, greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide can be emitted.
Prey: arctic fox, red fox, wolverine, lynx, bear, eagles even pine marten have been known to snack on arctic squirrel.
They wake up in the spring hungry. Par’kee” squirrels feeds on grasses, sedges, mushrooms, bog rushes, bilberries, willows, roots, stalks, leaves, leaf buds, flowers, catkins, and seeds. They will also feed on insects, and are opportunists. Occasionally they will even feed on dead warm blooded creatures such as mice, snowshoe hares, caribou and other squirrels. In the late summer, the arctic ground squirrel begin to store food in its burrow so it has food when it wakes up in the spring.
Did you know? A squirrels ability to hiberate is being studied for better preservation of human organ transplant, and connection between brain, heart and muscle cells.
Arctic squirrels heart rate drops significantly during hibernation compared to when there out in the spring and summer. “T’sik t’sik” (thril noise). Your noticed. Sometimes as much as 100-200 beats per minute. There blood is special too. When asleep arctic squirrel body temperature have been recorded as low as −3 °C (27 °F). Somehow they emit ice nucleators which are necessary for the development of ice crystals. In the absence of them (ice nucleators), body fluids can remain liquid while in frigid state. ‘Par’kee’ or arctic squirrels, along with marmot and little brown bat are one of the few small arctic animals that can hibernate.
The arctic squirrel have been recorded in the north tens of thousands of years. It is not yet extinct. Let hear it for our loud little thriling friend.
Torsten Bernhardt. “Canadian Biodiversity: Species: Mammals: Arctic Ground Squirrel”. Canadian Biodiversity. Redpath Museum; McGill University.