Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrels

Identification | Biology | Damage Identification | Management | Handling

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels

Thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus).
Photo by Robert Timm.


The 13-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) is 1 of 40 species of ground squirrels in North America. They are largely a species of the Midwest and also are known as gophers, striped gophers, leopard ground squirrels, and squinneys.

Legal Status

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are not protected by federal law, but may be protected by some state and provincial regulations. Some states, (e.g., Georgia and Arkansas) require a permit to kill non-game animals. Other states are developing laws to protect all non-game species. Consult local and state regulations before enacting control.

Physical Description

As the name implies, 13 stripes run the length of the body. Five of the light-colored lines break up into a series of spots as they progress down the back and over the rump. Five light and 4 dark stripes extend along the top of the head and end between the eyes. The cheeks, body, and legs are yellow or tan, with an orange cast. The chest and belly are thinly covered with light tan fur. Each front foot has 4 toes with long, slender claws. Five toes occur on each hind foot. Some of the common names include “13-liners,” “stripers,” “striped ground squirrels,” “striped gophers,” and “gophers.” Thirteen-lined ground squirrels weigh about 8 ounces. They grow to a length of about 10 inches, including a tail of 3 inches.

Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) often are confused with 13-lined ground squirrels. When startled, a ground squirrel carries its tail horizontally along the ground; chipmunks carry their tails upright.

Species Range

The original range of 13-lined ground squirrels was in the prairies of the North American Great Plains. When Europeans started clearing forests and establishing pastures, 13-lined ground squirrels extended their range into the new habitat. Today, they range from Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in the north to Texas in the south, and from central Ohio in the east to Colorado in the west . A few colonies occur in Venango County, Pennsylvania, where they were introduced in 1919.

Distribution of the 13-lined ground squirrel in North America. Image by PCWD.

Voice and Sounds

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels have six different calls. The call most commonly heard is a high-pitched trill that is used to signal danger. However, 13-lined ground squirrels do not consistently use warning calls  

Tracks and Signs

It is rare to find tracks of 13-lined ground squirrels.

Tracks of a 13-lined ground squirrel. Image by Dee Ebbeka.


Information on this species is based on the chapter in Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (Hygnstrom, Larson, Timm, ed. 1994), written by Edward Cleary (USDA-APHIS Animal Damage Control) and Scott Craven (Extension Wildlife Specialist, retired, University of Wisconsin).