Prairie Squirrel, the common name of the North American rodents of the genus sper-mophilus (Cuv.), most of them coming under Brandt's subgenus otospermophilus; they be-' long to the marmot family, and seem to connect these with the ground squirrels. The ears are moderate but generally distinct, the tail long and squirrel-like, and the cheek pouches well developed; the soles behind the toes are hairy in winter, naked in summer; the claw of the thumb is very small, or is replaced by a flat nail; the body more slender than in the marmot or woodchuck. These animals take the place of the tree squirrels in the west, and are fitted for terrestrial life on the grassy prairies, feeding on the roots and seeds of prairie plants; the body is rather thick-set, and the legs and toes are short, with straight nails for digging; they pass the winter in a torpid state in the cold regions, carefully stopping up the mouths of their holes; they are diurnal and gregarious, though to a less extent than the prairie dogs. The California prairie squir-: rel (S, Beecheyi, F. Cuv.) is about 11 in. long, with a tail about 8 in.; the general color above is an indistinct mottling of black, yellowish brown, and brown; below pale yellow; a broad hoary white patch on the sides of neck and shoulders, extending back a short distance on the sides; ears acute and prominent, black on the inside; tail flattened and well covered with hairs; body slender, and the head acute, with long whiskers; fur short, thin, and coarse.
This species cause much damage to the farmer in the fields of grain and the vegetable garden, and by disturbing the soil in their excavations. The best known species is the striped prairie squirrel (Si tredecim-lineatus, Aud. and Bach.), 6 in. long, with a tail of 4 in.; the color is dark brown above, with nine stripes of this color alternating with eight of a yellowish gray (the lower ones not always distinct), the five central ones of the former with yellowish dots and spots; lower parts and tail brownish yellow, the latter margined and tipped with blackish. It is found abundantly on the western prairies, above lat. 40° N. In Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and northern Illinois it is commonly called gopher; for the true animal of this name (geomys bursarius, Rich.), see Gopher. It is not found in heavy timber lands, but sometimes in oak openings, and generally on the prairies; its burrows are so shallow that a few pailfuls of water will commonly drown it out. The food consists of grasses, roots, seeds, insects, and field mice; though it is sometimes destructive in newly cultivated districts, or in neglected fields, to an extent which may require a second planting, it probably more than makes up the loss by the destruction of mice and noxious insects; it disappears before the plough, and rarely attacks old and well cultivated fields.
It brings forth six or seven young, once a year, in May or June.
Striped Prairie Squirrel (Spermophilus tredecim-lineatus).