Yellow bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) live singly, in pairs or in colonies of about 20 individuals with a single dominant male. These rodents are found in meadows, valleys and mountainous areas at various elevations (average elevation about 6,500 feet) in Southwestern Canada and the Northwest United States into the Rockies and Sierra Nevada. They prefer open habitats without trees or tall vegetation. Yellow bellied marmots prefer to dig their burrows on a slope, for drainage, and under rocks, for protection from predators.
Depending on elevation, yellow bellied marmots may hibernate as long as 8 months a year – from September to May at the highest elevations. Marmots at lower elevations may begin hibernation later in autumn and emerge as early as February or March in the spring.
Yellow bellied marmots are herbivores. Their weight fluctuates throughout the year – heaviest in the fall and thinnest in the spring after hibernation.
A friend living on Modoc County Road 91A near Lookout CA has a colony of yellow bellied marmots in her yard. She began to throw vegetable trimmings near the colony, which the marmots eagerly consume. With time, the marmots are becoming increasingly less wary. Recently while photographing her marmots I was able to eventually approach to within about 15 feet. When I first appeared, my photographic subject froze and did not move. After I chirped to the marmot and talked in a high-pitched voice, it relaxed and began to eat again. This little marmot is so cute!!
Research by Blumstein and Pelletier (2005) in the Canadian Journal of Zoology studied marmots that were presented food near their burrows. When humans were around, marmots emerged sooner from their burrows when this supplemental food was present and also tolerated closer human approach with food present. The authors speculated that the marmots were willing to take extra risk for the “food reward”.
When humans are present, without supplemental food, Rebecca L Flynn (2010 practicum, Environmental Biology West) demonstrated that yellow bellied marmots decrease the amount of foraging, movement (traveling) and resting (sunning) in which they participate while they give more alarm calls and spend more time in their burrows.
More information on yellow bellied marmots may be found in a previous post on 05-13-2012 entitled “Yellow Bellied Marmot”.