Many species of rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks and voles call this area home. Forty percent of all mammals are rodents. You can distinguish rodents by the way they eat. Instead of chewing, rodents gnaw, meaning they shave off a layer of woody food, then chew it once it is inside of their mouths. There are numerous cute rodents in the area. Here are some of our favorites:
There are a number of chipmunks in the area, all of them cute and fairly comfortable with humans, so they are easy to spot. The golden-mantled ground squirrel is the only one that includes meat in its diet along with seeds, fruits, vegetation, fungi and insects. The small animals store food in winter in their underground burrows when they hibernate during the winter. In spring the golden-mantled squirrel mate and give birth early in the season to litters of four to six young. Look for them throughout the day in as they scrounge for food.
The least chipmunk is probably the one you see when you are camping where they grab your scraps along with the traditional nuts and fruit they’d eat if you weren’t there. They also keep the insects down, so when you see the little ones in the spring give them a happy wave. Like the golden-mantled ground squirrel they disappear underground from fall to early spring.
Another common rodent is the Hopi chipmunk that roams throughout the four corners region. Preferring dry rocky habitats in or near pinyon-juniper woodlands, its diet is similar to the least chipmunk. When the weather heats up, the Hopi chipmunk will hide during the height of the day and can most often be seen in early morning or late afternoon.
Cliff chipmunks are common in multiple habitats including saltbrush, pine forests and everything in between. Its range goes from Idaho to Mexico, including all the Rocky Mountain and Southwestern states. Completely vegetarian, they can climb trees in search of nuts and seeds.
The Zion area also has quite a few mice including the deer mouse, a small brown mouse that ranges from deserts to grasslands to coniferous forests. They eat small invertebrates along with seeds and plants. It has been linked to hantavirus, so if you see it or its droppings, keep away.
Consider yourself lucky if you spot an American beaver or its dam. This oversize rodent distinguished by its paddle-like tail is common in Utah in slow streams, ponds, lakes and reservoirs where it cuts down trees to build dams and water diversions. You might catch sight of them year-round, but they slow down during the winter and are most active at night. More easily seen are their homes, built of mud and sticks in the center of streams or on the edge of ponds. Like most rodents they produce large litters, up to nine young who appear in late spring or early summer.
Another large rodent you may actually enjoy seeing is the Common Porcupine, which is actually quite uncommon to spot. Ranging from Alaska to Canada in the western states, the porcupine can be found in old growth forests, riparian zones, deserts and shrublands. They make their dens in hollow trees, downed logs, and small caves where they give birth to one young in the spring. Vegetarians, they consume fruit, nuts, seeds and leaves, when available, and live on needles and bark in the winter. Although they are primarily nocturnal, they can come out during the day. You will recognize them by their spiny quills which lie flat until they are riled. Then the loosely attached spines can penetrate into a predator, if touched.