Marmota caudatalong-tailed marmot

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Geographic Range

Red marmots, Marmota caudata, also know as golden or long-tailed marmots, are found in high alpine meadows of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram, and Tien Shen mountains of Central Asia. In the 1960's, red marmot populations were estimated at about 600,000 including: 200,000 in the Pamirs, 170,000 in Central and Western Tien Shan, 130,000 in Alai, and 100,000 in Gissaro-Darvaze. (Bibikov, 1996)

Habitat

Red marmots are most common in the mountain meadows which are often grazed by domestic sheep, goats, and yaks. They aso inhabit semi arid plateus and the edges of nut-forests. They are found from elevations of 1,400 to 5,500 m in the himalayan region. (Bibikov, 1996)

  • Range elevation
    1400 to 5500 m
    4593.18 to 18044.62 ft

Physical Description

Marmots are the second largest rodents (after beavers) in the Palearctic Region. The body shape and size of these animals reflect their fossorial, or partly subterranean, life. Marmots are solid and box-shaped, with the legs apart. The hind legs are shorter than the forelegs. Their bodies are streamlined and flexible, and marmots are capable of pushing their way through narrow holes. They can change direction during sharp turns. Red marmots weigh as much as 8 to 9 kg.

All four feet have five digits with sturdy, blunt claws. Pads on the digits are very well developed. These pads function to help rake up earth and compensate to some extent for the complete or partial reduction of the fifth digit. Other digits are long, flexible, and capable of holding thin plant stems.

The head of red marmots is flattened, and the neck is short. The large eyes are close to the top of the head, allowing the animal to see the terrain above ground while remaining inside the burrow. Ears are small and barely extend beyond the fur. Long wiskers are located on checks, lower jaw, around the nose, and eyes.

The skulls of marmots are distinguished from those of other sciurids by their large size, large postorbital processes, and relatively small cranium. (Bibikov, 1996)

  • Average mass
    8-9 kg
    lb

Development

See Reproduction.

Reproduction

The mating system and behavior of red marmots have not been reported. However, other mountain- dwelling marmots tend to mate polygynously. There is ofen a period of courtship behavior, which may include mutual sniffing, locking teeth, or sparring. During copulation, which may occur several times per day, the male typically uses his teeth to hold the female by the skin of her neck or head.

Copulation of some mountain-dwelling marmots may occur prior to emergence from the burrow in spring. This seems to be controlled by the length of the season, with shorter summers being associated with in-burrow breeding. In some species, such as the black-capped marmot, females may not emerge from the burrow until a few days before whelping.

(Bibikov, 1996)

Specific data on red marmot reproduction is scanty. In general, female red marmots sexually mature around two years of age, so they do not breed until their third summer. Age of sexual maturation seems to depend on the elevation and the duration of hibernation. At lower elevations, some two year old female red marmots have successfully weaned litters.

Females give birth to and rear young in a litter burrow. Red marmots copulate in their burrows before they appear on the surface after winter hibernation. After a short gestation (30 to 35 days), the female gives birth to altricial young. Litters typically contain 4 to 5 young, but can contain up to 10. In general, within the marmots, litter size is negatively correlated with size of the neonate.

Pups have a body mass of 26 to 40 g and a body length of 7.5 to 9.6 cm. The small size of newborn marmots (about 1% of an adult's weight) is probably an adaptation to conditions of the short activity period.

(Bibikov, 1996)

  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs in the hibernaculum before emergence in the spring.
  • Average number of offspring
    4-5
  • Range gestation period
    30 to 35 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

The young are born altricial, and are cared for by the mother in the nesting burrow.

Lifespan/Longevity

Although there are not data specifically relating to red marmots, other members of the genus Marmota can live between 13 and 15 years. (Nowak, 1991)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    13 to 15 years

Behavior

Specific information on red marmots is scanty. However, much is known about the behavior of marmots in general, and may be generalized to this species.

Marmots are true burrowers, with a complex underground system of tunnels and dens. Even during the summer, marmots generally spend 16 to 20 hours a day in dens. The marmot is the largest mammal that exhibits true hibernation. During winter when they become dormant, and quite often they do not emerge from hibernation for six months or longer. Marmots choose optimal sites for digging the winter burrow where persistent snow cover prevents the soil from freezing deeply.

The importance of burrows in the life of marmots is not limited to their use as shelter. The earth removed when the burrow is constructed encourages succession and considerably increases the variety of vegetation in their habitats.

The chamber in which marmots hibernate is called the hibernaculum. A special plug composed of earth, dung, and gravel also provides a permanent microclimate in the hibernaculum, allowing warmer air to be trapped inside. To produce a plug, many marmots use their front legs and the muzzle to make earth balls 0.5 to 8 cm in diameter to block the entrance to the winter burrow, and they press these balls down with their muzzle.

Marmots exhibit a variety of social structures, from nearly solitary in M. monax to extrememly social, with overlapping generations inhabiting the same burrow system, M. caligata. In general, the shorter the summer season, and the longer the period of hiberation, the more social the marmot species.

(Arnold et al., 1979; Bibikov, 1996)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Marmots are primarily vegetarians, and they consume a variety of plant species. Seasonal and local differences in forage composition have been found. During feeding, a marmot moves slowly, turning its head alternately from one side to the other. From a distance animals seem to crawl on their bellies. (Bibikov, 1996)

Predation

Specific data on predation in red marmots is lacking. In general, the number of marmot predators is not great. Some animals often attack marmots, eating primarily infant animals, especially during the first weeks after their emergence when the young marmots are not experienced with predator evasion.

In mountain regions, bears often dig out marmot burrows. The main predators of Eurasian marmots are stray dogs and wolves. Marmots actively react to predator appearance from far away, emitting alarm calls, and immediately running towards their burrows. Having stopped near the hole, they allow the predator to approach closer, constantly keeping an eye on it.

As mentioned in the physical description of M. caudata, the eyes of marmots are located on top of the head, allowing them to survey the surrounding area from within their burrows. It might be supposed that this is an adaptation allowing these animals to detect and avoid predators from a safe location.

Important predators of marmots everywhere are eagles, especially the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). (Bibikov,1996)

Ecosystem Roles

As a prey species, the abundance of M. caudata likely affects the size of eagle populations.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Local populations trap M. caudata for its hide and for meat. (Bibikov, 1996)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Red marmots may compete for forage with domestic livestock. (Bibikov, 1996)

Conservation Status

The range of red marmots is extremely fragmented. However, in Eastern Pamir, where the main populations are concentrated, settlements are distributed more continuously. In the 1960s to 1970s only 3 to 4 thousand skins were taken annually. Populations of the red marmot number about 250,000 animals in Kirgizia and about 360,000 individuals in Tadzhikistan. (Bibikov, 1996)

Contributors

Benjamin DeWeerd (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

altricial

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.

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

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

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

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).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

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.

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

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).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Arnold, W., D. Blumstein. 1979. Ecology and Social Behavior of Golden Marmots. Journal of Mammalogy, 3: 873-886.

Bibikov, D. 1996. "Marmots of the World" (On-line). Accessed November 8, 2001 at http://cons-dev.univ-lyon1.fr/MARMOTTE/PUBLILABO/Theses/Bibikov/bibtex/Bibsom.html.

Nowak, R. 1991. Wlker's Mammals of the World, Fifth Edition. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.