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Squirrels and Relatives: Sciuridae

Alpine Marmot (marmota Marmota): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Alpine marmots are relatively large with a head and body length of about 20 to 24 inches (50 to 60 centimeters). Their fur is thick and color varies from gray to yellow-brown to reddish. They have large heads; short, powerful legs; short, hairy tails; and a white bridge on their noses.

Geographic range: Alpine marmots are found in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, South Germany, West Austria, the Carpathian mountains, and the Tatra Mountains. They have been introduced into the Pyrenees, east Austria, and Yugoslavia.

Habitat: These animals live in open mountainous grassland areas, at approximately 4,300 to 9,800 feet (1,300 to 3,000 meters).

The thumb of the alpine marmot has a nail instead of a claw to aid in digging. (© St. Meyers/Okapia/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Alpine marmots feed primarily on a wide variety of vegetation, including grasses, flowers, bulbs and seeds. They may also eat insects, birds' eggs and occasionally each others' young.

Behavior and reproduction: Alpine marmots are social animals that form burrows. They live in family groups generally made up of an adult pair and their offspring from previous years. Colonies, groups, can be as small as two or three to as large as fifty, all living in one burrow system. During warmer weather they eat heavily, and then hibernate as a family from September to mid April or May. The last animal into the burrow, usually an adult male, plugs the entrance with hay and earth to keep the burrow warm and safe from predators. These animals have distinctive calls. One long whistle warns of a threat in the air, such as an eagle, while a series of whistles may warn of an approaching fox.

Female marmots are able to breed at the age of two. Breeding occurs once a year, a few days after they emerge from hibernation, but females do not typically reproduce as long as the offspring remain in the family group. Females have an average of three to four offspring.

Alpine marmots and people: Some people have long believed that alpine marmot fat rubbed into the skin could relieve arthritis. In Europe these animals have been a source of fur, meat, and fat for the last thousand years. The reliance of these animals for their food has decreased and some people consider them agricultural, farming, pests. They are also hunted for trophies in some areas, and hunting has caused the population of these animals to decline. Alpine marmots have become a symbol for the Alps.

Conservation status: Alpine marmots are not listed as a threatened species by the IUCN. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsSquirrels and Relatives: Sciuridae - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Behavior And Reproduction, Squirrels And People, Southern Flying Squirrel (glaucomys Volans): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS