The Marmota vancouverensis
, as it is known by scientists
, is found only in the mountainous regions of British Columbia
and Vancouver Island
. These animals usually prefer an open area with soft soil that is good for burrowing, plentiful herbs and forbs to eat, and suitable rocks to perch on.
Most colonies of these animals are found on elevations higher than 1000m. All a marmot needs for shelter is a burrow -- nearly all colonies of marmots live in large underground burrows where hibernation takes place. Marmots prefer mountainous regions for their rocks, soil and plentiful amounts of plants to eat. In 5 cases of ear-tagged marmots, research showed that the maximum movement was around 7 kilometres, but only around 30% would go this far. Most marmots would not wander off very far from their colonies, as this would leave them in danger of predators, like bears.
The Vancouver island marmot has sometimes been called an oversized cat, as its appearance is very similar to one. The Marmot usually weighs around 3-7 kilograms and is usually about 28 inches or 70 cm long. Marmots are the largest of the squirrel family and all marmots build elaborate underground tunnels, hibernate during the winter and feed off grass and flowers. The animal can be distinguished easily from their brethren by their rich chocolate coloured fur and white patches as shown in the diagram below. Distinctive white and brown patches can be found on the shoulders, head, underside and the top portion of the snout and legs. They are characterised by their blunt snout ending in a flat black nose. Their eyes are small and allow for monocular vision. The legs are short and end in long, sharp claws. The feet can be used to grasp food and other objects, and the tail is bushy and squirrel-like.
A male marmot is usually slightly heavier than a female and its life expectancy is around 10 years. There are usually 3-4 pups in a litter, and about a year between the birth of litters. Marmots are usually born around late May to June, and they hibernate from Mid-September until early June. During the summer they accumulate fat reserves, which total 20% of their body weight. This is what they live off while hibernating for several months. Marmots usually die while they are in hibernation, as this is when they are their weakest. Only 54% of juvenile marmots survive their first winter. They feed on green grasses and flowers that grow on mountain slopes.
Interestingly, they are nicknamed 'whistlers', because when an enemy approaches a colony of marmots, a 'lookout marmot' will usually be perched on a rock and see the approaching enemy. It will then let out a shriek to warn its fellow marmots. After hearing the warning sound, the colony of marmots rush back into their burrows for safety.