Marmota marmotaalpine marmot

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Geographic Range

Lives 400-500m above the forest line in the Central and Western Alpine mountains of Europe.

Habitat

Alpine marmots are adapted to cold climates. They are able to live in places where there is little vegetation. They are able to burrow in gravelly and frozen ground. (Nowak 1991)

Physical Description

The fur color of alpine marmots is a mixture of blonde to reddish to dark gray. Their bodies are plump and sturdy and stand at a height of 18cm. Body mass changes drastically from season to season. Before hibernation in the fall, the average weight of males is 4540g and that of females is 4355g. In the springtime, the average weight of males is 3000g and females is 2900g. Specialized for digging, the thumb of an alpine marmot has a nail on it while all other digits have claws. (Nowak 1991, Parker 1990)

  • Average mass
    3500 g
    123.35 oz
    AnAge

Reproduction

Marmota marmota mates within the first few days after emergence from hibernation, which occurs in May. Reproducing is not necessarily annual and depends on the weight of the dominant female of a group (as she is the only female to reproduce) after hibernation. Gestation takes approximately 33-34 days. Litters range in number of young from one to seven, each weighing in around 29g at birth. Hair begins to grow after 5 days and eyes open around the 23rd day. After birth, the young are hidden in burrows by their mother and do not exit until they are weaned (around 40 days old). Young become sexually mature around 2 years of age. The life span of an alpine marmot is expected to be between 15 and 18 years.

(Arnold 1985, Nowak 1991)

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Average number of offspring
    4
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    35 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    730 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    730 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Alpine marmots are well known for their friendly dispositions. Marmota marmota lives in monogomous family groups consisting of a parental breeding pair and many of their offspring (usually 15-20 individuals). Young are very playful and all ages engage in nose to nose greetings. They care for each other by grooming. Alpine marmots also have a social system wherein one individual sits and looks around as if on "guard-duty". If any enemies are spotted the "guard" will warn the colony with a high-pitched whistle. Although alpine marmots are friendly within their families, they become hostile when a stranger enters their territory. The female is particularly ferocious when it comes to guarding her territory.

An alpine marmot marks its territory by smearing a secretion from its cheek glands onto rocks and trees. Anal glands emit a foul-smelling substance used during fights.

Homebase for alpine marmots is an underground burrow, which is passed down through many generations of a single family. In these burrows are 8-10ft tunnels which lead to a big room called a den, where the whole family hibernates during winter months.

Alpine marmots spend all spring and summer getting as fat as they can in preparation for winter. Around October, these animals enter their burrow and close the entrance with hay and grass. When hibernating their temperature drops from 97 degrees Faranheit to 5 degrees Faranheit. Breathing slows to 2-3 breathes per minute. Adult temperatures are warmer than their young, so parents and older offspring control the temperature of the young by cuddling close to them. Thermoregulation also benefits adults by helping them to conserve thier own energy. About once every 10 days the den occupants will wake up for a short while. This waking brings up their temperature and keeps them from freezing.

(Arnold 1985, Nowak 1991, Parker 1990)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Alpine marmots are herbivorous, eating mostly leaves and blossoms. Because they don't spend much time chewing, M. marmota prefers softer stalks in order to ease digestion. Like many rodents, alpine marmots are able to eat plants that would poison other mammals. (Nowak 1991)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In Germany, alpine marmots are considered a delicacy. Residents of the Alps like to use the orange-yellow marmot teeth to decorate belts.

Conservation Status

Marmota marmota could potentially become endangered due to massive hunting. In Austria and Switzerland alone, 6,000 alpine marmots are killed annually as trophies.

Other Comments

"Mankei fat" or marmot fat has long been regarded as a relief for arthritic discomforts. Because the marmots live all winter long in moist cold dens and never show signs of rheumatism, alpine residents believe it is their fat that must give them immunity. For around 100 years, people have rubbed marmot fat on thier bodies to relieve arthritis.

Contributors

Johanna Landeryou (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

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.

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.

sexual

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

tactile

uses touch to communicate

References

Arnold, W. 1985 Socioecology of Alpine marmots. Abst. 19th International Ethological Conference, Universite P. Sabatier, Toulouse (30 Nov.-2 Dec.) http://cons-dev.univ_lyon1.fr/MARMOTTE/BIBLIO/BibMarA.html

Nowak, Ronald, 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth edition. John's Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

Parker, Sybil. 1990. Grizmek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Volume 3. McGraw-Hill Inc., New York.

http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~marmota/alpine.html