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Temporal range: Late Miocene – recent
Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Tribe: Marmotini
Genus: Marmota
Blumenbach, 1779
Type species
Marmota marmota

15, see text

Marmots are relatively large ground squirrels in the genus Marmota, with 15 species living in Asia, Europe, and North America. These herbivores are active during the summer when often found in groups, but are not seen during the winter when they hibernate underground. They are the heaviest members of the squirrel family. [1]



Marmots are large rodents with characteristically short but robust legs, enlarged claws well adapted to digging, stout bodies, and large heads and incisors to quickly process a variety of vegetation. While most species are various forms of earthen-hued brown, marmots vary in fur coloration based roughly on their surroundings. Species in more open habitat are more likely to have a paler color, while those sometimes found in well-forested regions tend to be darker. [2] [3] Marmots are the heaviest members of the squirrel family. Total length varies typically from about 42 to 72 cm (17 to 28 in) and body mass averages about 2 kg (4+12 lb) in spring in the smaller species and 8 kg (18 lb) in autumn, at times exceeding 11 kg (24 lb), in the larger species. [4] [5] [6] The largest and smallest species are not clearly known. [3] [4] In North America, on the basis of mean linear dimensions and body masses through the year, the smallest species appears to be the Alaska marmot and the largest is the Olympic marmot. [5] [7] [8] [6] Some species, such as the Himalayan marmot and Tarbagan marmot in Asia, appear to attain roughly similar body masses to the Olympic marmot, but are not known to reach as high a total length as the Olympic species. [9] [10] In the traditional definition of hibernation, the largest marmots are considered the largest "true hibernators" (since larger "hibernators" such as bears do not have the same physiological characteristics as obligate hibernating animals such as assorted rodents, bats and insectivores). [11] [12]


Some species live in mountainous areas, such as the Alps, northern Apennines, Carpathians, Tatras, and Pyrenees in Europe; northwestern Asia; the Rocky Mountains, Black Hills, the Cascade and Pacific Ranges, and the Sierra Nevada in North America; and the Deosai Plateau in Pakistan and Ladakh in India. Other species prefer rough grassland and can be found widely across North America and the Eurasian Steppe. The slightly smaller and more social prairie dog is not classified in the genus Marmota, but in the related genus Cynomys.

Marmots typically live in burrows (often within rockpiles, particularly in the case of the yellow-bellied marmot), and hibernate there through the winter. Most marmots are highly social and use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed.

Marmots mainly eat greens and many types of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, roots, and flowers.

Marmot eating flowers

Subgenera and species

The following is a list of all Marmota species recognized by Thorington and Hoffman [13] plus the recently defined M. kastschenkoi. [14] They divide marmots into two subgenera.

Additionally, four extinct species of marmots are recognized from the fossil record:

History and etymology

Marmota primigenia fossil Marmota primigenia.JPG
Marmota primigenia fossil
A Marmot with a Branch of Plums, 1605 by Jacopo Ligozzi Jacopo Ligozzi, A Marmot with a Branch of Plums, 1605, NGA 139309.jpg
A Marmot with a Branch of Plums, 1605 by Jacopo Ligozzi

Marmots have been known since antiquity. Research by the French ethnologist Michel Peissel claimed the story of the "Gold-digging ant" reported by the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century BCE, was founded on the golden Himalayan marmot of the Deosai Plateau and the habit of local tribes such as the Brokpa to collect the gold dust excavated from their burrows. [19]

An anatomically accurate image of a marmot was printed and distributed as early as 1605 by Jacopo Ligozzi, who was noted for his images of flora and fauna.

The etymology of the term "marmot" is uncertain. It may have arisen from the Gallo-Romance prefix marm-, meaning to mumble or murmur (an example of onomatopoeia). Another possible origin is postclassical Latin, mus montanus, meaning "mountain mouse". [20]

Beginning in 2010, Alaska celebrates February 2 as "Marmot Day", a holiday intended to observe the prevalence of marmots in that state and take the place of Groundhog Day. [21]

Relationship to the Black Death

A number of historians and paleogeneticists had postulated that the Yersinia pestis variant that caused the pandemic that struck Eurasia in the 14th century originated from a variant for which marmots in China were the natural reservoir species. [22] [23]

Examples of species

Related Research Articles

Groundhog Species of mammal (rodent of the marmots)

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. The groundhog is a lowland creature of North America; it is found through much of the eastern United States, across Canada and into Alaska. It was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758.

Ground squirrel Type of ground-dwelling rodent

The ground squirrels are members of the squirrel family of rodents (Sciuridae), which generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees. The term is most often used for the medium-sized ground squirrels, as the larger ones are more commonly known as marmots or prairie dogs, while the smaller and less bushy-tailed ground squirrels tend to be known as chipmunks. Together, they make up the "marmot tribe" of squirrels, Marmotini, a division within the large and mainly ground squirrel subfamily Xerinae, and containing six living genera. Well-known members of this largely Holarctic group are the marmots (Marmota), including the American groundhog, the chipmunks, the susliks (Spermophilus), and the prairie dogs (Cynomys). They are highly variable in size and habitus, but most are remarkably able to rise up on their hind legs and stand fully erect comfortably for prolonged periods. They also tend to be far more gregarious than other squirrels, and many live in colonies with complex social structures. Most Marmotini are rather short-tailed and large squirrels. At up to 8 kg (18 lb) or more, certain marmots are the heaviest squirrels.

<i>Spermophilus</i> Genus of rodents

Spermophilus is a genus of ground squirrels in the squirrel family. As traditionally defined the genus was very species-rich, ranging through Europe, Asia and North America, but this arrangement was found to be paraphyletic to the certainly distinct prairie dogs, marmots, and antelope squirrels. As a consequence, all the former Spermophilus species of North America have been moved to other genera, leaving the European and Asian species as true Spermophilus.

Hoary marmot Species of rodent

The hoary marmot is a species of marmot that inhabits the mountains of northwest North America. Hoary marmots live near the tree line on slopes with grasses and forbs to eat and rocky areas for cover.

Vancouver Island marmot Species of rodent

The Vancouver Island marmot naturally occurs only in the high mountains of Vancouver Island, in the British Columbia. This particular marmot species is large compared to some other marmots, and most other rodents. Marmots as a group are the largest members of the squirrel family, with weights of adults varying from 3 to 7 kg depending on age and time of year.

Yellow-bellied marmot Species of rodent

The yellow-bellied marmot, also known as the rock chuck, is a large, stout-bodied ground squirrel in the marmot genus. It is one of fourteen species of marmots, and is native to mountainous regions of southwestern Canada and western United States, including the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Mount Rainier in the state of Washington, typically living above 2,000 metres. The fur is mainly brown, with a dark bushy tail, yellow chest and white patch between the eyes, and they weigh up to approximately 5 kilograms. They live in burrows in colonies of up to twenty individuals with a single dominant male. They are diurnal and feed on plant material, insects, and bird eggs. They hibernate for approximately eight months starting in September and lasting through the winter.

Alpine marmot Species of rodent

The alpine marmot is a large ground-dwelling squirrel, from the genus of marmots. It is found in high numbers in mountainous areas of central and southern Europe, at heights between 800 and 3,200 m (2,600–10,500 ft) in the Alps, Carpathians, Tatras and Northern Apennines. In 1948 they were reintroduced with success in the Pyrenees, where the alpine marmot had disappeared at end of the Pleistocene epoch.

Olympic marmot Rodent in the squirrel family from the U.S. state of Washington

The Olympic marmot is a rodent in the squirrel family, Sciuridae; it occurs only in the U.S. state of Washington, on the middle elevations of the Olympic Peninsula. The closest relatives of this species are the hoary marmot and the Vancouver Island marmot. In 2009, it was declared the official endemic mammal of Washington.

Himalayan marmot Species of rodent

The Himalayan marmot is a marmot species that inhabits alpine grasslands throughout the Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau. It is IUCN Red Listed as Least Concern because of its wide range and possibly large population.

Bobak marmot Species of rodent

The bobak marmot, also known as the steppe marmot, is a species of marmot that inhabits the steppes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It is a social animal and inhabits steppe grassland, including cultivated field borders. It hibernates for more than half the year. Litter sizes average about five offspring and it takes three years for the young marmots to reach sexual maturity. Male offspring leave the home colony after their second winter, and about 60% of mature females give birth in any one year. The fur is used to make hats and coats and a Moscow fur-farm is experimenting with breeding bobak marmots for their pelts.

Long-tailed marmot Species of rodent

The long-tailed marmot or golden marmot is a marmot species in the family Sciuridae. It occurs in mountainous regions in the central parts of Asia where it lives in open or lightly wooded habitats, often among rocks where dwarf junipers grow. It is IUCN Red Listed as Least Concern. As suggested by its name, it is a relatively long-tailed species of marmot.

Gray marmot Species of rodent

The gray marmot, grey marmot, or Altai marmot is a species of rodent in the squirrel family Sciuridae. It is one of the larger marmots in the genus Marmota. It occurs in mountainous grasslands and shrub lands of central Asia, and is one of the 9 Palearctic (Eurasia) species. It is found in Xinjiang Province in China, southeastern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, and in the Altai and Tien Shan Mountains in southeastern Siberia in Russia. In the Mongolian Altai, its range overlaps with that of the Tarbagan marmot. Gray marmots form social groups, live in burrows, and hibernate.

Alaska marmot Species of rodent

The Alaska marmot, also known as the Brooks Range marmot or the Brower's marmot, is a species of rodent in the family Sciuridae. It is found in the scree slopes of the Brooks Range, Alaska. They eat grass, flowering plants, berries, roots, moss, and lichen. These marmots range from about 54 centimetres (21 in) to 65 centimetres (26 in) in length and 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lb) to 4 kilograms (8.8 lb) in weight. Alaska celebrates every February 2 as "Marmot Day," a holiday intended to observe the prevalence of marmots in that state and take the place of Groundhog Day.

Black-capped marmot Species of rodent

The black-capped marmot is a species of rodent in the family Sciuridae. It is endemic to the Russian Far East, but its range is discontinuous and divided into three main parts, each with its own subspecies. The black-capped marmot lives in arctic tundra and alpine habitats from near sea-level to an altitude of 2,000 m (6,600 ft). Depending on exact subpopulation, they hibernate for 6–8 months each year, which is long for a marmot.

Menzbiers marmot Species of rodent

The Menzbier's marmot is a species of rodent in the family Sciuridae from Central Asia. Its name commemorates Russian zoologist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Menzbier.

Tarbagan marmot Species of mammal

The Tarbagan marmot is a species of rodent in the family Sciuridae. It is found in China, northern and western Mongolia, and Russia. In the Mongolian Altai the range overlaps with that of the Gray marmot. The species was classified as endangered by the IUCN in 2008.

Diandrya is a genus of cestode parasites that are known from marmots in North America. The species Diandrya composita, described along with the genus by J. G. Darrah in 1930, is known from all North American marmots except the woodchuck. The species D. vancouverensis, described by T. F. Mace and C. D. Shepard in 1981, is only known from the Vancouver marmot, an island endemic on Vancouver Island.

Diandrya composita is a species of cestode parasites that is known from marmots in North America. Described along with the genus Diandrya by J. G. Darrah in 1930, is known from all North American marmots except the woodchuck.

The forest-steppe marmot is a rodent species of the marmot genus found in south-central Russia. It lives in wooded forest steppe at an altitude of 180–450 m (590–1,480 ft) in a relatively small region located directly east of the upper Ob River. It has traditionally been considered a subspecies of the similar, more southerly distributed gray marmot, but was separated mainly due to different diploid numbers. Forest-steppe marmots have a head-and-body length of 45–66 cm (18–26 in), and light individuals weigh as little as 3 kg (6.6 lb) in the spring and heavy individuals as much as 8.9 kg (20 lb) in the autumn. It hibernates for about 612 months starting in August or September.

Altai montane forest and forest steppe

The Altai montane forest and forest steppe ecoregion covers patches of the subalpine forest belt on the Altai Mountains, crossing the border region where Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China meet. The region has high biodiversity, as it is located in transition zones between different ecoregions, altitudes, and climate zones. It is in the Palearctic realm, with a Cold semi-arid climate. It covers 35,199,998 km2 (13,590,795 sq mi).


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