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The Marmot Primer
by Smoky on April 18, 2008

Did you know that there are many different kinds of marmots? Can you tell the difference? Here's a little bit about the more common marmot varieties in the North American west.

by Smoky Marmot and Scorch Marmot What is the difference between Yellow-Bellied marmots and Vancouver Island marmots? As marmot ambassadors, we get asked that question a lot. Therefore, we decided we would collaborate on an article and provide a little education at the same time. So, sit back, grab some flower tops (or your favorite snack), a warm fuzzy friend (learning is more fun in groups) and get ready to learn a thing or two! First, the generalities. As most everyone knows, marmots are of the Mammal class of the Animalia kingdom. We are mammals! We are also of the rodent order. This means we are related to squirrels, prairie dogs, cappaberras and other rodents. There are fourteen species of marmots. ‘Marmot' is derived from the French word marmotte. What many don't know is that the marmot species is sub-divided into a sub-genus of Marmota and Petromarmota. We both belong to the Petromarmota sub-genus. In fact, all current Marmot Adventures marmots are of the Petromarmota sub-genus. Anyone who has done anything with Marmot Adventures, has most likely come into contact with Yellow-Bellied marmots (Smoky) and Vancouver Island marmots (Scorch). Recently, another species of marmot has joined the crew, but we'll talk about that species some other time. Marmots typically live in burrows and hibernate in the winter. Burrows are underground tunnels connecting rooms, including the nursery, to one another. Our hibernation rooms are deeper than our everyday tunnels and rooms. A burrow can have multiple families and extend across 6 acres. We are very social creatures, hence the growth in marmot population at Marmot Adventures. To the human ears, our method of communications sound like chirps and whistles. To us, they are words. You'll notice that most marmots in the wild are very skittish and do not go near humans. Marmots have a lot of predators. Since humans are a lot bigger than a marmot, they are viewed as predators. You will notice whenever a human is near a marmot colony, there are a lot of chirps as the alarm is given. Generally, marmots are herbivores. We prefer grasses, berries, lichen, moss, roots and specially flowers. The typical marmot in the wild hibernates about seven months, from September to May. The actual hibernation period will depend on the weather. During hibernation, heart rate will slow down to only a few beats per minute as compared to the hundred or so beats when we are active. Marmot families consist of a male and one or more females, called harems. Females are typically smaller than males in size and weight. The difference will be determined by the species of marmot. Let's begin with Yellow-Bellied Marmots. (Smoky Marmot) The Yellow-Bellied marmot lives in the western United States and southwestern Canada. This includes the Rocky Mountains where a lot of the Marmot Adventures marmots come from. Yellow-Bellied marmots typically live above 6,500 feet. This is why you don't see many marmots on the lower elevation away missions that some of the crew members participate in. Yellow-Bellied marmots have yellow to red-yellow bellies. Hence the name. The rest of the fur is usually some shade of brown with yellow-speckles on the cheeks. Sometimes, our tails will have white tips. Yellow-bellied marmots weigh five to eleven pounds (exiting hibernation - entering hibernation). However, it really isn't fair to weigh a marmot when he is fattening up for winter. The Yellow-Bellied marmot can measure 1.5 to 2.5 feet in length with an additional half to three quarters of a foot in tail length. We are actually omnivores. In additional to the herbs listed above, we also like small insects (like grasshoppers) and birds' eggs. Yellow-Bellied marmots reach sexual maturity at two years of age. Each female in the harem will produce on average of three to five pups per litter. A female will produce a litter about every other year. The pups will venture out of the burrow at about two weeks. At five weeks they will be completely weaned and eating on their own. Since male marmots are extremely territorial, the young males will leave their birth burrow to start their own families in their second summer. Yellow-Bellied marmots tend to stay within ten miles of their birth burrow. This makes it a little easier to have family reunions. Specific predators of the Yellow-Bellied marmot include wolves, foxes and coyotes. If a Yellow-Bellied marmot is able to avoid the predators and other dangers, it is possible to live to the ripe old age of thirteen to fifteen years old. Now for the Vancouver Island Marmot. (Scorch Marmot) The Vancouver Island marmot is uniquely Canadian. The Vancouver Island marmot is found in the mountains only on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The sub-alpine open areas facing south and west are the preferred grounds for the Vancouver Island marmots. The ideal spot will have sufficient rocks for sunning. Vancouver Island marmots have a rich chocolate brown fur with white patches. We are the size of a typical house cat. In fact, the quarters where I am staying has two cats. They are a little bigger than me. But, we still get along great. We occasionally share greens. However, I don't believe they are suppose to eat them and are just being polite. The Vancouver Island marmot weighs 6.6 to 14.3 pounds Unlike the Yellow-Bellied marmot, the Vancouver Island marmots are true herbivores. We do NOT eat bugs or eggs. However, our predators include the Grey Wolf, Cougar and the Golden Eagle. IMAGINE!! We do not eat the eggs of birds, yet the eagle will consider us a tasty snack. The Vancouver Island marmots have their own holiday. May 1 is Vancouver Island Marmot Day. This is about the time my kin in the wild come out of hibernation. It was really nice of the humans to set this holiday in the spring. Winter is just too cold. Vancouver Island marmots reach sexual maturity at four years of age. We can live to about ten years of age. Some live longer, but we really aren't good at counting. The pups will stay with their mother for the first year including their first hibernation. A litter will consist of an average of three pups. Like the Yellow-Bellied marmot, the females will skip a year of mating. The pups will spend their first month in the burrow before venturing above ground. We will stay with our parents until we are about two or three years of age. The Vancouver Island marmots will typically stay within four miles of their birth burrow. Unfortunately, we are becoming a dying breed. We are on the endangered species list. Luckily for us, a number of zoos and foundations are trying to help through captive breeding and reintroduction programs. We have lost a third of our population due to habitat disruption caused by logging. Between 2001 and 2003 the Vancouver Island marmots numbered about 24 individuals in the wild. This is down from about one hundred in 1998. Thanks to organizations like the Marmot Foundation, Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Mountainview Conservation & Breeding Center and others, the Vancouver Island marmots are attempting to make a comeback. Marmots born in captivity are released back in the wild. 162 marmots have been born in captivity with 60 pups born in 2007 alone. Some of these marmots have been released into the wild in various areas in the Southern mountains. In 2007, there were an estimated 90 marmots in the wild (including those from the release program). Because of the endangered status, the Vancouver Island marmot has become a conservation symbol in British Columbia. In fact, MukMuk, a Vancouver Island marmot, is the “sidekick” of the three official mascots for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Vancouver Island marmots at Marmot Adventures really have it easy. We don't have to worry about predators and have comfortable sleeping quarters. But we won't forget our wild relatives and our mission to continue to increase our numbers. As we said, there are fourteen species of marmots. In time, we hope to give you some information on the other twelve species. CLASS DISMISSED!



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