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Marmots

June 21, 2020
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Yellow-bellied Marmot M. flaviventris in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite N.P.
Photo by David Iliff, License: CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’ve done any alpine hiking in North America, Europe or Asia (including the Himalayas) you have undoubtedly seen a marmot. I met my first marmot in California’s eastern Sierras, specifically at Base Camp, altitude 12,000 feet above tree line and below Mt. Whitney. I’d taken my canteen to a nearby stream to get some water – this was during the years before giardia became widespread – and returned to find him halfway into my backpack, snuffling for snacks. Trail mix most likely. I had not been aware that large fat animals this size lived so high up in the mountains. I spent most of that afternoon watching them investigate and invade all the backpacks of hikers who – like me – left them unattended for more than a moment. Another hiker, just as surprised as me, came over and asked, “What is that thing, a giant rat?” “Marmot,” I replied with an air of authority, as if I hadn’t looked it up in my Sierra Natural History book only five minutes earlier.

Jacopo Ligozzi, A Marmot with a Branch of Plums, 1605.
NGA 139309, Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, the etymology of the term “marmot” is uncertain. It may have arisen from the Gallo-Romance prefix marm-, meaning to mumble or murmur (an example of onomatopoeia). Another possible origin is post-classical Latin, mus montanus, meaning “mountain mouse”. I would not like to meet a mouse this size, scampering alongside the baseboard in my bedroom in the dead of night, or perhaps creeping across my bedcovers, pausing to sniff my breath.

Marmota primigenia fossil. Photo by Ghedoghedo, Aug 2010, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart; Wikipedia

What is a marmot? It’s essentially a large fat mostly-alpine herbivorous ground squirrel. At last count, there are fifteen species of marmots (read more: Wikipedia). One species, Marmota momax was featured in the film Groundhog Day (also starring Bill Murray.) They are classified in Order Rodentia (rodents), Family Sciuridae (squirrels & allies), Subfamily Xerinae (ground squirrels & allies), Tribe Marmotini (medium-sized ground squirrels), Genus Marmota. There are two subgenera: Marmota with eleven species including Groundhog, Alaska Marmot, and nine species in Eurasia; Petromarmota with four North American species, including Olympic Marmot M. olympus. The film below is about this last species.

If no film or link appears in this email, go to the blog to view it by clicking on the blog title above. If the film stops & starts in an annoying manner, press pause (lower left double bars ||) to let it buffer and get ahead of you.
Thanks to Carol Prismon-Reed for this film suggestion.  [Chuck Almdale]

One Comment leave one →
  1. c prismonreed permalink
    June 21, 2020 1:59 pm

    thanks for additional background…

    c.prismon-reed 松林 songlin/ 송림 songlim ______________________________ * 詩人 小蘭 * “a poet is a small orchid”

    On Sun, Jun 21, 2020, 13:40 SANTA MONICA BAY AUDUBON SOCIETY BLOG wrote:

    > Chukar posted: ” If you’ve done any alpine hiking in North America, Europe > or Asia (including the Himalayas) you have undoubtedly seen a marmot. I met > my first marmot in California’s eastern Sierras, specifically at Base Camp, > altitude 12,000 feet above tree line and ” >

    Like

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