Field Science Challenge #1 – Ground Squirrel Spotters

RMBL is launching a new citizen science project!  We need your help to document the locations and species of ground dwelling squirrels. We’d like to record information about squirrels that live in burrows (NOT tree squirrels). We are looking for the rodent family members that are specifically part of Tribe Marmotini in North America including marmots, woodchucks, ground squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs. RMBL scientists have been studying golden-mantled ground squirrels for over 30 years and yellow-bellied marmots for over 60 years in Gothic, Colorado.  Recently, Wyoming ground squirrels have been seen in the Gothic area. This observation lead to some questions about whether climate change could be impacting the range of different ground dwelling squirrels.  We need more data to find out!  

What We’d Like to Find Out: Which species of ground dwelling squirrels live near where you live, work and recreate?  What type of habitats can different species of ground squirrels live in?  Are ground squirrels that normally live in lower elevations and warmer areas expanding their ranges? Are certain ground squirrel species more successful at competing for resources than others 

What You’ll Need  

  • A notebook and something to write with (scientists still use field journals!) 
  • A camera or phone to take pictures 
  • A way to upload pictures to the internet 

What To Do:  

  1. Sign up for an iNaturalist account by going to and download the iNaturalist app onto your mobile device.  Once you have an account, choose the Community tab and scroll down to click on the Projects page where you can search for the project: RMBL Ground Squirrel Spotters.  Select “Join to become a member of this project in order to upload your observations.  
  2. To collect data for this project, bring your camera or phone with you while exploring outside.  Watch for ground dwelling squirrels and take their pictures when you see them.  Upload your observations directly from the field location through the iNaturalist app on your phone, or upload the images from your camera through a computer to the Ground Squirrel Spotter iNaturalist project page when you get home.   
  3. Be patient and persistent!  Taking photos of ground dwelling critters can be challenging because they can move quickly.  Start by noticing where they live and when they are active.  Then, choose a time when you are able to hang out near their burrow and snap a picture when they come out and hold still enough for a photo.  It is OK to take multiple pictures of the same ground dwelling squirrel.  Every picture from any day is worthwhile data.  
  4. Watch the recorded question & answer session with Dr. Caitlin Wells Salerno of CSU who studies ground squirrels at RMBL.  Caitlin will be happy to answer your ground dwelling squirrel questions and share some of what she has learned from her research over the years.   
  5. Extra Option:  If you would like to do more than take pictures of ground dwelling squirrels, we’d like to receive some more detailed observations.  Once you have found a ground dwelling squirrel you can watch, complete the Ground Dwelling Squirrel Observation Chart and send us your results.  Hand write the chart into your notebook or print it off to fill it out.  Take a picture of your completed chart or scan and email it back to us. Or snail mail works too (ATTN: RMBL Ground Squirrel Spotters, PO Box 519, Crested Butte, CO 81224). We’re curious what you are seeing out there!

Please Remember (Research Rules & Ethics): For the health and safety of you and the animals you are studying, do not touch, trap or feed wildlife.  Researchers have permits and strict protocols they follow when doing studies that involve trapping animals.  As a citizen scientist, you are observing animals from a safe distance. This is a non-invasive study of ground squirrels.  If your presence is causing the animals distress, back away and remain at a distance that does not cause alarm for the animal.  We want you and the animals you are observing to be safe and happy!  

What Happened? Tell Us About It!  Try to get at least 3 observations into iNaturalist this week.  And, continue to provide observations through the course of the summer.  

So what?  Next Steps:  RMBL staff and scientists will keep track of the results you post to iNaturalist.  We are seeking long-term data, so this summer is just the beginning.  RMBL will continue to update the iNaturalist Ground Squirrel Spotter project page with helpful information.  Thank you for your efforts to collect data about ground dwelling squirrels! 

Recorded Lab Chat with Dr. Caitlin Wells