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Wednesday's Wildlife: Marmots

The high-pitched whistle of the hoary marmot may surprise you when hiking in the mountains. Marmots are diurnal (active during the day) and like to perch on rocks with high vantage points, acting as sentries to any incoming danger, such as eagles or bears. Their piercing alarm call quickly alerts colony members to return to their burrows. 



Hoary marmot by rock in alpine meadow.
Figure 1: Hoary marmot.


Alberta is home to two of these extra-large ground squirrels, the hoary marmot, and the yellow-bellied marmot.  Their names describe their distinguishing feature: the hoary marmot has dark hair grizzled with silver tips, whereas the yellow-bellied marmot has yellow or reddish fur.



Yelly-bellied marmot on a rock.
Figure 2: Yellow-bellied marmot.

 

Hoary marmots are the largest of the ground squirrels in North America, weighing an average of ten to fifteen pounds, (the heaviest hoary marmot ever recorded managed thirty!) Marmot weight fluctuates throughout the year with their eight-month hibernation period where they can lose twenty percent of their body weight!




 

Hoary marmots live above the tree line in the Rocky Mountains. Their social colonies usually consist of a large male and several breeding females and their young.  They socialize by play wrestling, grooming, and nose-to-nose touching.

 

Yellow-bellied marmots tend to live at lower elevations.  Their colonies are similarly structured with a single male, several breeding females, and their young.



Hoary marmot on road.
Figure 3: Potential marmot hitch-hiker.

 

Marmots survive best with their colonies. Unfortunately, there has been a trend of hitchhiking marmots who, curious about visiting vehicles (and attracted to the minerals often found in cars), have crawled into the frame or engine, and travelled back into the city.  If you are spending the day in the mountains, please check your vehicle frame, or bang on the hood of your car before heading back to the city. You'll scare the marmots off and help them stay in the wild where they belong!

  

Uncertain whether wildlife needs help? Found injured or orphaned wildlife? Please call our hotline at: 403-214-1312.

 

 

 

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