Amazing facts about the marmot rodent.

Picture of an alpine marmot rodent.

It’s a rodent related to the squirrel, but the marmot has not inherited the squirrel’s bushy tail.

Although the South American capybara and the beaver are the world’s largest rodents, the marmot comes next, weighing about six kilograms (about 13 lb) and measuring anywhere from 63 to 75 centimeters (25 to 30 in.).

Where are they found?

They are found generally at high altitudes, between 1,200 and 3,200 meters [4,000 and 10,500 ft].

Although in the French and Swiss Jura Mountains and in Austria some live as low as 800 meters [2,600 ft], the natural habitat of the European marmot is in the Alps and in the Carpathian Mountains.

However, they have also been introduced by humans into the Black Forest in Germany, and the Jura, Auvergne and Pyrenees mountains in France.

There are other species, such as the bobac that lives in the steppes of Russia and Turkey, and the woodchuck that lives in North America.

Marmot characteristics

Marmots have a dark-brown back, reddish-yellow belly and tiny ears.

They also have very sharp hearing, but their eyesight is even more remarkable, for they have an estimated visual field of 300 degrees, including above, from where swoops their archenemy, the eagle and foxes.

Humans also hunts the marmot for its fur and fat, but in most countries the hunting period is short and the hunters are forbidden to use traps or to dig animals out.

How does the marmot defend itself?

When it is cornered marmots will face up to their enemy and can bite.

However, they usually find safety in flight, for they never stray very far from one of their burrows

Marmots just love to squat on their haunches to eat.

What do marmots eat?
Various types of tender green grass and plants make up the best part of their diet.

The Marmot’s burrows

Picture of an alpine marmot burrow.

Marmot's long hard claws are designed for digging.

In addition to shallow escape holes, they also dig summer and winter burrows.

Why are there two sorts of burrows?
First of all, marmots remain at high altitudes only during the summer and later make their way down to lower pastures to dig their winter burrows.

At medium and lower altitudes, however, the two burrows may be very close to each other.

The summer burrow may be some ten meters (over 30 ft) long and have several wider portions that serve as chambers.

The burrow runs more or less parallel with the surface of the ground and about 50 to 90 centimeters (20 to 35 in.) down.

This is where Mother Marmot, after a gestation period of 33 to 35 days, will give birth to a litter of two to four young.

The winter burrow, on the other hand, is a model of subterranean architecture.

The entrance gallery is consistently 15 centimeters (6 in.) wide; it may reach 10 meters (33 ft) in length and goes down to a depth of several meters before widening out into a large round cavity—the bedchamber.

It is often over a meter wide and is lined with grass and dry leaves.

There are even little openings that serve as latrines.

In winter, the burrow is sealed off with a heap of excavated soil.

Marmots hibernation

The most remarkable thing about marmots is their ability to hibernate.

They go off to sleep toward the end of September and don’t wake up until April, or even later.

 Another interesting fact is that marmots purge before hibernating, by fasting and progressively emptying their bowels.

Once the burrow is sealed off, the animal will curl up and go to sleep, losing all consciousness and sense of feeling.

It has been noted that they breathe only one to four times a minute instead of the usual 25 to 30 times. Also, their pulse rate drops from 90 to about 10 beats a minute, thus greatly reducing blood flow.

It seems that a special mechanism sets off the production of heparin, an anticoagulant.

The body temperature may drop to around four degrees Celsius (39° F.) with no ill effects.

What happens if its temperature falls even lower?

Another unexplained device will then awaken the animal, which immediately starts producing heat.

The same thing occurs every three or four weeks when it wakes up to empty its bladder, after which it falls back into its former torpor.

It is thought that this rise in body temperature is brought about by an influx of adrenaline in the bloodstream.

The animal draws upon its own fat and will lose from 25 to 50 percent of its initial weight.

The marmot is truly a marvel of nature.