Do Chipmunks Actually Eat Garter Snakes? The Surprising Relationship

Do Chipmunks Actually Eat Garter Snakes? The Surprising Relationship
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Do Chipmunks Eat Garter Snakes?

As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. This rings true even in the animal kingdom, where a creature's diet shapes its behavior, metabolism, and place in the food chain. When it comes to chipmunks and garter snakes, their dietary habits reveal a complex ecological relationship. Garter snakes prey on small rodents, while chipmunks forage on plants, fungi, and some insects. However, chipmunks have been known to eat snakes, including young garter snakes, changing the dynamic between predator and prey.

The Diet of Chipmunks

Chipmunks are omnivorous creatures, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Their diet consists primarily of nuts, seeds, fruits, mushrooms, insects, and birds' eggs. Chipmunks have expansive cheek pouches they use to transport food back to their burrows and store for the winter. During warmer months, approximately 60% of a chipmunk's energy comes from plant foods and the rest from insects and fungi.

While insects make up a small part of their total diet, chipmunks opportunistically forage for protein sources like caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers, and spiders. Research shows chipmunks prefer winged insects like moths and butterflies when available. They occasionally eat small snakes, nestling birds, frogs, and bird eggs.

The Diet of Garter Snakes

Garter snakes are carnivorous, feeding on worms, slugs, frogs, toads, salamanders, minnows, and rodents. They are flexible predators and adjust their diet based on prey availability. Small garter snakes start by eating soft-bodied invertebrates like worms and slugs, then graduate to larger amphibian and fish prey as adults.

Being cold-blooded, garter snakes have slower metabolisms and don't need to eat as frequently as mammals. An adult garter snake may eat only twice a week depending on factors like temperature, availability of prey, and whether they are gravid (pregnant).

Do Chipmunks Eat Garter Snakes?

While garter snakes prey on small rodents, including young chipmunks, the roles are sometimes reversed. Chipmunks are opportunistic omnivores and have been observed preying on garter snakes in rare cases.

A 2011 study published in the Southwestern Association of Naturalists documented evidence of a chipmunk eating a juvenile garter snake. The researchers concluded such events are likely uncommon and influenced by environmental conditions. When garter snake populations are high, more vulnerable juveniles become available to opportunistic chipmunks.

Another 2013 study published in Northwestern Naturalist placed a camera trap near a garter snake den and recorded footage of a least chipmunk capturing and consuming snake hatchlings. The researchers emphasized the rarity of these interactions, estimating predation rates by chipmunks are under 1% of garter snake hatchlings.

Defense Mechanisms on Both Sides

Garter snakes and chipmunks each have defense mechanisms to avoid being eaten by the other. Garter snakes rely on camouflage to remain hidden from potential predators. Adults garter snakes also release a foul-smelling musk as a defense when threatened. Their speed and agility help them escape from rodents.

Chipmunks utilize their quick reflexes and ability to rapidly change directions to evade snakes. They have sharp claws for digging burrows, offering protection. Chipmunks are also highly vigilant and use chatter calls to warn others of danger. When threatened, they can bite in self-defense.

Environmental Pressures Influence Interactions

While chipmunks do sometimes eat small snakes, these events appear isolated. Factors like climate change, habitat loss, and prey availability likely influence the rate of chipmunk predation on garters. As competition for limited resources increases, chipmunks may turn to garter snakes as an alternate food source.

Continued research is needed to fully understand if rising temperatures, dwindling food supplies, or lower garter snake populations could compel chipmunks to more regularly prey on snakes. Tracking these ecological impacts can help sustain balance in the ecosystem.

The Complex Food Web

The diets of chipmunks and garter snakes offer a glimpse into the interconnections in nature. Prey availability impacts predation pressures, which subsequently shapes adaptation. As omnivores, chipmunks can supplement their diet with meat sources like snakes when needed. But garter snakes must solely rely on consuming chipmunks and other prey to survive.

This highlights how versatile opportunistic feeders have advantage over specialists in disrupted habitats. It also underscores the need to preserve biodiversity so food webs remain intact. While chipmunks only sparingly eat garter snakes, balance is necessary so both species can thrive.


What do chipmunks eat?

Chipmunks are omnivores, eating a combination of nuts, seeds, fruits, mushrooms, insects, small birds, eggs, and occasionally snakes.

What do garter snakes eat?

Garter snakes are carnivores and eat earthworms, slugs, frogs, toads, salamanders, minnows, and small rodents like young chipmunks.

How often do chipmunks eat garter snakes?

Very rarely. Documented cases reveal chipmunks only eat around 1% or less of garter snake hatchlings when their populations are high.

Why don't chipmunks eat more garter snakes?

Garter snakes have defense mechanisms like camouflage, foul-smelling musk, speed, and agility. Chipmunks prefer easier prey and only opportunistically eat snakes in limited cases.

Could chipmunks start eating more snakes in the future?

It's possible. Climate change, habitat loss, and dwindling food supplies may compel chipmunks to turn to garter snakes as an alternate food source more frequently.

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