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February 3, 2013

Well, we made it through another “Groundhog Day” and apparently there is a consensus: spring is almost here. I don’t know about that though. Our Yellow-bellied Marmots showed far too much sense to poke their noses out of their burrows to look for shadows. I think the jury is still out about the arrival of spring – at least around here.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot – the scars suggest that this is a male

I see Yellow-bellied Marmots regularly at some local rock slides .  Apparently, marmot males establish and defend territories and one to several females may chose to live on that territory. A female and her young use a foraging area that the females defend from other females. Most colonies, as a result, are comprised of related females and their young: matrilines.

Two young yellow-bellied marmots

Two young yellow-bellied marmots

surveying the situation from the safety of  the rocks

surveying the situation from the safety of the rocks

Yellow-bellied Marmots call out to warn about predators and calls vary with the perceived degree of risk. I have never seen a marmot in a tree, but apparently they will climb trees to feed or get a better view of a threat. I have seen groundhogs climb trees out east, but there are not many trees in the area where I have seen the Yellow-bellied Marmots and their burrows.

 a look out

a look out

staying near safety

staying near safety

Marmots build a few small escape burrows throughout the colony.  They build only one larger and more elaborate home and hibernation burrow and  they block themselves into their hibernation chamber over winter.   Females and their young may hibernate together.   (The recently published “The Natural History of Canadian Mammals” by Donna Naughton gives incredibly detailed and interesting accounts and descriptions of our mammals.)

So, our “groundhogs” are safely sleeping in their burrows. And if marmots dream, I imagine they are dreaming of warm sun and fresh green grass. I doubt that they worry or dream about their shadows. And where does that leave us with respect to spring? Still waiting, along with the marmots.

All photos and writing copyright J.A. Siderius 2013.

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