Originally written for the Outside Bozeman blog.
In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin wrote, “…The more intelligent members within the same community will succeed better in the long run than the inferior.” While Darwin was talking about the evolution of man, a recent hike up Storm Castle Peak showed that same principle at work… in a chipmunk.
After heaving myself up the mountain and coming to terms with the deplorable condition of my fitness level, my roommate and I stopped to eat lunch at the top of the stony peak. Birds fluttered around our heads, and chipmunks scampered over the rocks. Two of the striped critters seemed particularly fearless, and I watched as the larger one edged closer to my roommate, who was still obliviously munching on his sandwich.
This rotund rodent was nearly twice the size of his companion, and its intention was obvious: it smelled the sandwich, and it wanted a bite. Against better judgment, I told my roommate to hold out a chunk of sandwich. The chipmunk, showing an uncharacteristic amount of cojones for the species, scampered over and snatched the bread out of my roommate’s outstretched hand.
The action was not unlike how domesticated rodents act. Like hamsters, rats, and guinea pigs, the chipmunk snatched the food and scurried away to nibble on it a few feet out of reach. This was striking: A wild chipmunk acting with the same mannerisms as pets that have been around people their entire lives.
Naturally, our instinct was to try it again. After it finished nomming down the first offering, we lured the chipmunk back to where we were sitting with a trail of crumbs. This time I held out a chunk of sandwich. Just like before, it snatched the snack from my hand. At that point, it became apparant that the chipmunk was not only big in stature, it was fat too. How often do you see fat animals in the wild? Obesity is usually reserved for sedentary house pets.
The BMI of this chipmunk could probably be attributed to its innovative ways of procuring food in a wild habitat. It had learned that humans carry food along the trail, and they usually stop at the top of the mountain to enjoy it. By mooching people’s food, the creature’s natural fear has diminished in a big way. From late spring to the closing days of fall, this chipmunk doesn’t have to search for food—its meals are delivered to the top of the peak.
Granted, the critter’s portly shape and foraging grounds on bare rock may one day make it an easy target for a hawk, but at least for this day, the little chipmunk proved to be the smartest animal on the peak.
Editor’s note: We do not endorse or recommend feeding wildlife. But if the wildlife approaches and plaintively asks for a bite of sandwich, they might be hard to resist. Do NOT do this with bears.