Facts & Profile
Marmot Marmota marmota

The alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) is a large ground-dwelling squirrel, from the genus of marmots. It is found in high numbers in mountainous areas of central and southern Europe, at heights between 800 and 3,200 m (2,600–10,500 ft) in the Alps, Carpathians, Tatras and Northern Apennines. In 1948 they were reintroduced with success in the Pyrenees, where the alpine marmot had disappeared at end of the Pleistocene epoch.

Description & appearance

An adult alpine marmot is between 43 and 73 cm (17–29 in) in head-and-body length and the tail measures from 13 to 20 cm (5–8 in). The body mass ranges from 1.9 to 8 kg (4.2–17.6 lb), with the animals being significantly lighter in the spring (just after hibernation) than in the autumn (just before hibernation). The alpine marmot is sometimes considered the heaviest squirrel species, although some other marmot species have a similar weight range, making it unclear exactly which is the largest. Its coat is a mixture of blonde, reddish and dark gray fur. While most of the alpine marmot's fingers have claws, its thumbs have nails.

Distribution & habitat

As its name suggests, the alpine marmot ranges throughout the European Alps, ranging through alpine areas of France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia and Austria. They have also been introduced elsewhere with sub-populations in the Pyrenees, France's Massif Central, Jura, Vosges, Black Forest, Apennine Mountains, and the Romanian Carpathians. The Tatra marmot (Marmota marmota latirostris Kratochvíl, 1961) represents an endemic subspecies of Alpine marmot that originated during the Quaternary period. Tatra marmots inhabit Tatry Mountains and Nízke Tatry Mountains. Marmots are abundant in their core population; in the Romanian Carpathians, for example, the population is estimated at 1,500 individuals. Alpine marmots prefer alpine meadows and high-altitude pastures, where colonies live in deep burrow systems situated in alluvial soil or rocky areas.

Marmots may be seen "sun bathing", but actually this is often on a flat rock and it is believed they are actually cooling and possibly this is a strategy to deal with parasites. Marmots are temperature sensitive and an increase in temperature can cause habitat loss for the species as a whole.

Diet

Alpine marmots eat plants such as grasses and herbs, as well as grain, insects, spiders and worms. They prefer young and tender plants over any other kind, and hold food in their forepaws while eating. They mainly emerge from their burrows to engage in feeding during the morning and afternoon, as they are not well suited to heat, which may result in them not feeding at all on very warm days. When the weather is suitable, they will consume large amounts of food in order to create a layer of fat on their body, enabling them to survive their long hibernation period.

Mating & reproduction

The mating season for alpine marmots occurs in the spring, right after their hibernation period comes to a close, which gives their offspring the highest possible chance of storing enough fat to survive the coming winter. Alpine marmots are able to breed once they reach an age of two years. Dominant females tend to suppress reproduction of subordinates by being antagonistic towards them while they are pregnant which causes stress and kills the young. Once the female is pregnant, she will take bedding materials (such as grass) into the burrow for when she gives birth after a gestation period of 33–34 days.

Each litter consists of between one and seven babies, though this number is usually three. The babies are born blind and will grow dark fur within several days. The weaning period takes a further forty days, during which time the mother will leave the young in the burrow while she searches for food. After this period, the offspring will come out of the burrow and search for solid food themselves. Their fur becomes the same colour as adult alpine marmots by the end of the summer, and after two years they will have reached their full size. If kept in captivity, alpine marmots can live up to 15–18 years.

Important Note:

This text is based on the article Alpine marmot from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and is licensed under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported (short version). A list of the authors is available on Wikipedia.