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February is MARMOT MONTH!

Updated: Feb 29

Today is Groundhog Day! Did you know that groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are just one of many species of marmots found here in North America? Groundhogs being the most well known species of marmot, have the largest distribution, and can be found from coast to coast across Canada!



Marmot on rocks Calgary Wildlife



Marmots are large ground squirrels known for their distinctive whistles and hibernation habits. The six amazing species of marmots in North America are:




Did you know that groundhogs are a species of marmots?

- Groundhog


- Alaskan Marmot


- Hoary Marmot


- Yellow-bellied marmot


- Vancouver Island marmot


- Olympic marmot



While the Groundhog is the most widespread species of marmot, the Vancouver Island marmot is the exact opposite. The Vancouver Island marmot can only be found on the 25 mountains of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It’s the only marmot species that lives solely on an island, and it’s also the rarest of all marmot species.



Stay tuned for more marvelous marmot facts coming all this month!



 

Have you ever wondered which species of marmots are found up in the mountains here in Alberta? When you are out on a hike and hear a whistle from afar, It's likely either the hoary marmot or the yellow-bellied marmot!






Let's take a closer look at both of these furry mountain ramblers.


Yellow-Bellied Marmots:

The yellow-bellied marmot's natural habitats are alpine meadows, grasslands, and open woodlands at high altitudes. How high? Well above 6,000 feet in our Rocky mountains. Behavioral adaptations such as large body size (5-11 lbs), a thick fur coat, and extended hibernation, enable them to not only survive, but thrive in these regions.


They spend nearly 80% of their lives in their burrows, conserving energy and warmth during the harsh alpine winter before they emerge each spring.


They’re most active during the day, looking for food of course. Yellow-bellied marmots are mostly omnivores, eating grasses, fruits, insects, grains, legumes, and eggs.


Hoary Marmots:

The hoary marmot is the largest member of the marmot family in North America. They can weigh up to 30 pounds and measure more than 30 inches in length. Hoary marmots prefer to live in alpine regions similar to the yellow-bellied marmots with elevations of 8,200 feet or higher. They’re known as “the whistlers” because they make high-pitched whistles when alarmed or excited. Hoary marmots are solitary animals that spend the majority of the winter hibernating.


Hoary marmots like to sun themselves on rocks, spending as much as 44% of their time in the morning doing so, although they will shelter in their burrows or otherwise seek shade in, especially in warm weather. They forage for the rest of the day, returning to their burrows to sleep during the night.


But how do we tell them apart?

The best way to tell these two species apart is their fur colour and overall size.


The yellow-bellied marmot is adorned with a pelage of mixed brown, gray, and black, but it’s their distinct yellow underparts that provide the species with its namesake. They are the smaller of the two species.


For the hoary marmot, the word "hoary" refers to the silver-gray fur on their shoulders and upper back; the remainder of the upper parts have drab- or reddish-brown fur. They are the larger of the two species.




Fun fact:

In areas frequented by people, most marmots are not shy. Rather than running away, at first sight, they will often go about their business while being watched.


Stayed tuned for more mighty marmot info, where we will touch on how they contribute to the mountain ecosystem and how you can help keep marmots wild.



 

For our last Marmot Month post let's explore the role of marmots as both ecosystem engineers and occasional unwanted hitch hikers.






Did you know that marmots play a unique ecological role in the alpine and subalpine of the Rocky mountains? Marmots are often the only large, burrowing mammal that lives in this habitat. By digging burrows, marmots create underground tunnels that provide a cool, dark place to hide for a variety of animals, including insects, snakes, and amphibian. Burrow excavation also creates huge mounds of soil and rocks that are used by other animals. Scientists use the term “ecosystem engineer”¹ to describe organisms that create, modify, and maintain habitats.



So the next time you come across a marmot burrow, take a moment to think about all the species that might use some part of these amazing structures!










Did you know that you should "Check your car before you leave" the parking lot after being out in the mountains?. If you have spent a wonderful day out in the mountains, and are about to head home, it can save a marmots life if you take a few seconds to check your car. Unfortunately, there has been a trend of hitchhiking marmots who, curious about hiker vehicles (and attracted to the


minerals often found on cars), have crawled into the frame or engine, and travelled back into the city. Once in the city the marmots are lost and far from their home environment.


So please...

"Check your car before you leave"

- Check under your hood and vehicle frame

- Bang on the hood

You'll scare the marmots off and help them stay in the wild where they belong!


Finally, please enjoy this adorable marmot video!



Please consider sponsoring the rescue and care of a marmot patient here at Calgary Wildlife!



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