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  • Marmots spend about a third of their day outside the burrow, and half that time they are lounging!

  • Yellow-bellied marmots line their burrow nest chambers with grasses for warmth and comfort.

  • If a marmot needs to quickly find safe cover from a predator, he can run up to ten miles per hour.

  • Marmots take a mid-day break in the coolness of their burrows to avoid summer’s hottest weather.

  • Known for their sociability, marmots take time to greet one another each morning before breakfast.

  • When marmots hibernate, they may be in their burrows eight months and emerge weighing 30% less.

Yellow-bellied marmots are related to woodchucks—the low and lumbering animals we see foraging along roadsides and in suburban backyards. But yellow-bellied marmots live in more remote habitat—semi-desert, forest openings, woodlands, and alpine tundra—typically at elevations of about 2,000 feet, throughout most of the western United States and southern Canada.

Their habitat must have slopes strengthened by vegetation or rocky outcrops, as these make good sites for digging burrows, which are needed for hibernating, hiding from predators, sleeping, and sheltering their young. They excavate a main passageway into the hillside and many short tunnels branching from it, some of which connect with other burrows. When abandoned, their burrows are useful for cottontails, opossums, skunks, raccoons, weasels, snakes, gray foxes, and—after a little more digging—red foxes.

How they spend their time

Like their more familiar relatives, yellow-bellied marmots hibernate in winter. They remain in their burrows from September to May, although they emerge as early as February at lower elevations, where temperatures are warmer. When not hibernating, they spend mornings sunbathing on rocky outcrops, like those found at the Able Wildlife Sanctuary in McArthur, California. The rest of the morning and afternoon are for socializing and foraging for forbs, grasses, and flowers—especially lupines and columbines, if available. At sunset they retire to their burrows.

But marmots’ days are not just a lot of eating and lounging. There’s grooming—a lengthy process accomplished using their teeth; watching out for predators; and sending out whistles, trills, and chucks as safety warnings for their neighbors and relations. Then, there are the inevitable interlopers—other marmots trying to steal turf—so they also have to patrol, chase them off, and re-mark their territory. No wonder they need a nap or two!

Threats to their safety and wellbeing

Yellow-bellied marmots have many predators. Coyotes and golden eagles try to catch them when they are away from their burrows, but badgers and black bears will dig them out of their burrows. Bobcats, lynx, cougars, fishers, and American martens also prey upon them.

People hunt yellow-bellied marmots in parts of their range for sport, food, or fur. And, the marmots have tendency to be attracted to roadside edges to lick salt left behind by ice and snow treatments, which places them at risk for being struck by vehicles.

Like so many wild animals, the marmot is being effected by climate change. Scientists monitoring its impact on hibernating animals have found that warming temperatures are causing yellow-bellied marmots to emerge from their dens 23 days earlier now than in 1976. If they begin emerging before adequate food is available, they may have to forage farther from their burrow than is safe, or risk trying to survive on less food than they need. Fortunately, prospects are still bright for the yellow-bellied marmot as a species. Protecting their natural habitat, as always, is one of the best actions we can take to help keep it that way.

 

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