Photo Closeup Friday: The Hoary Marmot

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The frost-white fur on the head and shoulders of the hoary marmot is what gives it its name. This eight-to-twenty-pound rodent’s piercing warning whistling can be heard in high mountain meadows, talus slopes, and from northern Alaska, to Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Montana. Hoary marmots can be curious creatures. It is not uncommon to see them interact with mountain goat children who are playing or curious.

The animal seeks refuge under boulders from its main enemies, eagles. Grizzlys can dig tunnels under rocks and move the stones to get to the marmot. They do this when the animal is hibernating. Hoary marmots can enter their dens as early September and enter into a dormant stage. Their respiration rate and heartbeat become extremely slow, and their body temperature falls to a point only a few degrees above freezing They don’t emerge until June, nine months later. Even then, they might still have to dig upwards through a lingering layer of snow to reach the sun. Perhaps as a way to adapt to the harsh alpine environment hoary marmots have a more social nature than their common eastern relatives the woodchuck or the groundhog. They live in colonies where there is little aggression among the adults and the young aren’t driven out as they mature. It takes two years for a rodent to reach maturity, which is a long time. Such slow development reflects the extended hibernation period required to survive in this animal’s high-country niche.*

Find your Marmots this July as they are foraging! Join Art Wolfe’s Mt. Rainier workshopIn July!

*Text excerpt from “The Kingdom”


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