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One of Wisconsin’s rarest mammals gets a new home

  • ##The Franklin’s ground squirrel is one of Wisconsin’s rarest mammals and very difficult to find, which is one reason DNR conservation biologists were so excited to get a recent report they had been confirmed in Douglas County.

    Thanks to a partnership between active and retired DNR conservation biologists, Northland College professor Erik Olson and his students, the Franklin’s ground squirrels are getting new digs. They have been re-located from private land to restored habitat in Washburn County. Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##Franklin’s ground squirrels spend most of their time on the ground or underground. A true hibernator, this squirrel holes up in its burrow from mid-September to mid-April. Similar in size and appearance to the much more common gray squirrel, the Franklin’s ground squirrel has a shorter, flatter tail and a rusty brown back. Adult males weigh just over one pound. Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##Owners of the private land where they were found wanted the rare mammals removed, concerned they were eating garden vegetables and burrowing under buildings. Franklin’s ground squirrels typically avoid short grass or mowed lawns in favor of their preferred tallgrass areas that provide more cover from predators, but such shrubby prairie habitat has largely vanished from Wisconsin. Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##Live traps were set on the Douglas County property to catch the rare squirrels. The property owners had reported up to seven Franklin’s ground squirrels. Three were quickly captured and live trapping continues for the rest of them. Photo by by Rich Staffen
  • ##At their new home, Erik Olson and students, along with retired conservation biologist Adrian Wydeven, weighed the Franklin’s ground squirrels… Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##They took various measurements… Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##Including of the foot… Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##They marked the Franklin’s ground squirrels in two ways so the mammals’ movements and survival can be tracked in future years. Here, Olson prepares to place a microchip, or PIT tag, in the animal. The fur is also marked with a special paint. Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##When the animal is recaptured in the future, a microchip reader will be used to check for the PIT tag to learn which animal it is. Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##The partners released the Franklin’s ground squirrels to their new home. “We figured we’d try to keep them together with their family group so they have a better chance of survival,” says DNR Conservation Biologist Rich Staffen. Also important to the effort was re-locating the Franklin ground squirrels so they had enough time to explore their new home and find suitable habitat for their winter hibernation. Photo by Damian Vraniak
  • ##The Franklin’s ground squirrel was historically found on the shrubby edges of prairies and woodlands extending from northwestern Wisconsin to southeastern Wisconsin. Now, the bulk have been found in northwestern Wisconsin and there are a few reports from central Wisconsin.

    If you think you’ve spotted a Franklin’s ground squirrel, submit photographs, along with the location and any information describing the habitat, by visiting and searching “NHC.” Click on the “report” button and use the drop down menu to select “Franklin’s ground squirrel.” The URL is: Photo by Rich Staffen
Last Revised: Thursday August 1, 2019