Ground Squirrels, Vikings and Galaxies

We don’t see Thirteen Lined Ground Squirrels at Crossroads, but they live in Door County. They also live in Minnesota, where they are called Golden Gophers. But around Independence Day, we prefer to call them by their original common names: either Federation Squirrels or Thirteen Striped Ground Squirrels….. Stripers for short.

If the Vikings explored America, they did not observe these creatures. Neither did the colonists or our Founding Fathers. Stripers did not live in the thirteen original colonies. In 1776, only the Plains Indians were familiar with them these chubby little mammals.

But soon after the United States became a nation, explorers set out to explore the Midwest. When they reached the prairies, they noticed stripers popping out of hole. Apparently, the early American explorers were very patriotic. So when they found a mammal marked with alternating dark and light stripes and little white stars, they were reminded of Old Glory (which then would have been Young Glory) and so they named the creatures for the thirteen stripes on the American flag.

Thirteen Striped Ground Squirrels hibernate through the winter, emerging only after the snow is gone and grass is growing–which this year was remarkably early. Males come up first and start eating. The females sleep in for a couple extra weeks and then, they pop out.

Females eat, but they also clean out their burrows, fix up their nests and by the 4th of July, whole families are out in the grassy fields, fattening up on roots and insects. As long as the grass is green and lush, we will see the little heads of Thirteen Striped Ground Squirrels popping up and we can watch them scurry through open fields.

Last summer, they just disappeared. Lucky for them, ground squirrels are adapted to survive drought. If they have acquired enough body fat in the early months of summer, they can start their hibernation if it gets too hot for them or if the grass turns brown. They just curl up in their burrows and sleep for ten months.

Crossroads programs will focus on exploration this week. At 7:00 on Tuesday, July 10, The Door Peninsula Astronomical Society will hold its general meeting.“ DPAS President Dave Udell will discuss NASA’s flagship mission for X-ray astronomy, “Chanda” and Dr. John Beck will offer the illustrate lecture: “Galaxies.” Visitors are encouraged to attend the meeting at the Stonecipher Astronomy Center. Please use the Utah Street Entrance to Crossroads.

The Door County Historical Society invites the community to enjoy Sunday in the Village between 1:30-3:30. Admission and Village tours are free and each week is different. On July 8, the society is proud to present Dr. Paul Burton, noted Door County writer, as he discusses “The Vikings and Their Westward Wanderings. “He will provide a survey of the developments of the Westward Exploration of the Viking of Scandinavia beginning with the development of the Longship capable of conquering the sea. Did the Vikings reach America? The program begins at 2 pm.


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