Grey marmots are found in the Palearctics. They inhabit the Altai Mountain range in western Siberia (Russia), western Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan and northern China. Their geographic range also spans into the Tian Shan Mountain range of southeastern Kazakhstan, eastern Kyrgyzstan, and northwestern China. (Batbold, et al., 2012)
Grey marmots living in temperate climates occupy many different habitats including tundra, taiga, grassland and mountains. Mountain habitats include both the Altai Mountain Range and the Tian Shan Mountain range. In these mountainous habitats grey marmots will be found near the top of ridges in cases where it is living in sympatry with another other species of marmots including Tarbagan marmots. A large lower elevation grassland habitat grey marmost inhabit is located on the east and west of Issyk Kul, a very large lake in Kyrgyzstan. (Batbold, et al., 2012; Rogovin, 1992)
- Range elevation
- 0 to 4000 m
- 0.00 to 13123.36 ft
Grey Marmots are one of the largest marmots found in Asia. Their total length is 59.0 cm to 80.5 cm, with a short tail (13cm to 15cm) that accounts for less than a third of their head-body length. The a weight of an adult on average varies from 4.25 kg to 6.5 kg. They have a light greyish-brown fur covering their face all the way back to the ears where it fades into thick sandy colored base coat with nearly black tips of fur covering most of the pelt on their back. This gives their dorsal side a greyish appearance and is also how they got their common name, grey marmot. Their tails, as stated before, are relatively short compared to their body and are the same color as the base coat except for a dark brown-black tip. They are low to the ground with short thick legs and have small fur-covered ears. (Hayssen, 2008a; Smith, et al., 2008)
- Sexual Dimorphism
- sexes alike
- Range mass
- 4250 to 6500 g
- 149.78 to 229.07 oz
- Range length
- 590 to 805 mm
- 23.23 to 31.69 in
Although not much is known about the mating system of grey marmots, most marmot groups at similar latitudes were always thought be monogamous due to a lack of resources and food. A 2006 study determined that this was not true in another species of marmots that resides at a similar latitude. The study showed that smaller social groups of marmots proved to be monogamous while marmots in large social groups were promiscuous. (Davis and Clark, 2006)
Mating among grey marmots only occurs once a year, for about a month, starting in the beginning of May and ending in the beginning of June. Only after they have reached a mature age (3 years) will they begin mating. Just half of mature females will end up mating each year. After a pair has mated the female undergoes a 40 day gestation period and a live birth of a litter, usually consisting of 2 to 6 pups. (Davis and Clark, 2006; Hayssen, 2008b)
- Key Reproductive Features
- seasonal breeding
- gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
- Breeding interval
- Grey marmots breed once a year.
- Breeding season
- Mating starts in the beginning of May and ends in the beginning of June.
- Range number of offspring
- 2 to 6
- Average gestation period
- 40 days
- Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
- 3 years
- Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
- 3 years
After the female has given birth she will lactate for 30 days to feed her young, staying with them in the burrow for a majority of time. There is no documentation of direct paternal care by grey marmot males. (Davis and Clark, 2006)
Little is known about the life span of grey marmots in the wild or in captivity. However other species of marmots can live on average 12 to 14 years in the wild, with reports of up to 18 years. ("The Animal Aging and Longevity Database", 2009)
Grey marmots are very social mammals and live in colonies consisting of anywhere from 6 to 20 individuals. These groups tend to be sessile, staying in one area, hibernating instead of migrating. Hibernation usually starts in the time frame from late August to early October and lasts 7 to 8 months. Summer burrows usually contain 2 to 3 individuals and tend not to be as deep in the ground as winter burrows. Winter burrows are dug deeper to help keep the occupants warm during hibernation. Also winter burrows can house up to 10 individuals which helps to keep the occupants warm with added body heat. During the summer months grey marmots are diurnal feeding during the day. Grey marmots are not as territorial as their close relatives Tarbagan marmots, with whom they live in close sympatry. (Batbold, et al., 2012; Kolesnikov, 2010)
- Range territory size
- .01 to .05 km^2
Communication and Perception
Grey marmots communicate acoustically with alarms calls that indicate to other members of the colony that danger is present. They also communicate nonverbally in times of danger by flagging to the others with their tails. Pointing their tail straight up in the air and then rapidly moving it up and down. Males also rubs his cheek at the entrance of a burrow leaving his scent for mating purposes. (Hayssen, 2008b; Wolff and Sherman, 2007)
Grasses and herbaceous vegetation make up the majority of the diets of grey marmots. In the spring when new vegetation begins to sprout fringed sagebrush (Artemisia frigida) is a favorite for grey marmots. They are also known to sometimes eat other small animals, but it is not a large part of their diet. (Batbold, et al., 2012)
- Animal Foods
- Plant Foods
- roots and tubers
- wood, bark, or stems
The dark tips of fur on the ventral side of grey marmot coats give them some camouflage from above. This allows them to blend in with some of the natural colors of the ground helping with predator avoidance from large birds of prey such as eagles and hawks. Also alarm calls and nonverbal "flagging" with their tails is another way grey marmots avoid birds of prey, as well as terrestrial predators. (Davis and Clark, 2006)
Grey marmots are a keystone species in the ecosystem, serving as a food source for many different types of predators. Also the burrows dug out by them are used by other animals, such as rattle snakes, that use the burrows to hide in and ambush their prey. Grey marmots are also a host to many parasites like mites, ticks, tapeworms, and fleas. (Davis and Clark, 2006; Elton, 1925; Kolesnikov, 2010; Rogovin, 1992)
- Ecosystem Impact
- disperses seeds
- creates habitat
- soil aeration
- mites (Lorryia formosa)
- ticks (Ixodes ricinus)
- tapeworms (Ctenotaenia marmotae)
- fleas (Ceratrophyllus silantievi)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Grey marmots aren't only consumed by birds of prey and wild animals, but is a part of the diets for humans living in the region. Farmers use grey marmots as a source of food and also use some body parts as a source of medicine. People in the region also hunt and trap grey marmots using their pelts for trade. (Batbold, et al., 2012; Davis and Clark, 2006)
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Tarbagan marmots have been known to carry the Bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis) and by living in close sympatry with Tarbagan marmots, grey marmots could be carriers of the plague, as well. They can carry with the disease if they are infected by common parasites such as ticks or fleas. Humans using grey marmots as a food source could get the disease if they consume infected meat. (Davis and Clark, 2006; Elton, 1925; Rogovin, 1992; Wolff and Sherman, 2007)
IUCN Red List considers grey marmots as Lower Risk or Least Concern on its list with an estimated population of 600,000 individuals in Mongolia alone (approximately 16% of the total population). There is a brief hunting season of about 2 months starting on August 11th and lasting through October 15th. (Batbold, et al., 2012)
Lucas McGann (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.
- bilateral symmetry
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
- causes disease in humans
an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).
- causes or carries domestic animal disease
either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
- active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
- female parental care
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
- native range
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
- scent marks
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
- seasonal breeding
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
- soil aeration
digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in
uses touch to communicate
Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
- tropical savanna and grassland
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
- temperate grassland
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
2009. "The Animal Aging and Longevity Database" (On-line). Human Aging Gemonic Resources. Accessed August 21, 2012 at http://genomics.senescence.info/species.
Batbold, J., N. Batsaikhan, S. Shar. 2012. "International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)" (On-line). Accessed August 20, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12829/0.
Davis, C., B. Clark. 2006. Social structure and facultative mating systems of hoary. Molecular Ecology, 1: 1-11.
Elton, C. 1925. Plague and the regulation of numbers in wild mammals. The Journal of Hygiene, 24(2): 138-161.
Hayssen, V. 2008. Patterns of body and tail length and body mass in Sciuridae. Journal of Mammalogy, 89(4): 852-873.
Hayssen, V. 2008. Reproductive effort in squirrels: ecological, phylogenetic, allometric, and latitudinal patterns. Journal of Mammalogy,, 89(3): 582-606.
Kolesnikov, V. 2010. Spatial distribution of Marmota baibacina and M. sibirica (Marmota, Sciuridae, Rodentia) in a zone of sympatry in Mongolian Altai: bioacoustic analysis. Biology Bulletin, 37(3): 380-384.
Rogovin, K. 1992. Habitat use by two species of Mongolian marmots (Marmota sibirica and M. baibacina) in a zone of sympatry. Acta Theriologica, 37: 345-350.
Smith, A., Y. Xie, R. Hoffmann, D. Lunde, J. MacKinnon, D. Wilson, W. Wozencraft. 2008. A Guide to the Mammals of China. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Wolff, J., P. Sherman. 2007. Rodent Societies: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.