Alpine marmot

Marmota marmota

TAXONOMY

Mus marmota (Linnaeus, 1758), Swiss Alps. Six subspecies. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Marmotte des Alpes; German: Alpenmurmeltier; Spanish: Marmotta alpina.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Males: 26 in (67 cm); Males 5.1-12.6 lb (2.3-5.6 kg); females: 5.2-11 lb (2.3-4.9 kg). Fur color varies among populations from gray to red and sometimes blond. A white bridge occurs on the nose.

DISTRIBUTION

Swiss, Italian, and French Alps; western Austria and southern Germany; and Carpathian and Tatra Mountains. Has been introduced into French Pyrennes, eastern Austria, and former Yugoslavia.

HABITAT

Lives in subalpine clearings and alpine from 4,300 to 9,800 ft (1300-3000 m). Prefers southern exposures.

BEHAVIOR

Lives as family groups typically composed of an adult pair and their offspring, which can include newborn to up to 4-year old offspring. Hibernates from September to mid-April or May as a family group. Juveniles benefit from hibernating in a group especially in the presence of older male siblings. Closely related subordinate males assist in thermoregulating their younger offspring. Groups with only the adult pair and a litter of juveniles have a greater probability of dying out over winter.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Feeds on a wide variety of leaves and flowers of herbaceous plants and grasses.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Breeding occurs once a year a few days after emergence from hibernation. Gestation is 33-34 days. Average litter size of 3-4 with range of 1-7. Weaned at 40 days. Reproductively mature at two years old but reproduction in mature offspring of both sexes is suppressed by the parent of the same sex as long as the offspring remains in the family group. Monogamy is the dominant mating system for Alpine marmots in the French Alps, dominant males sire only two thirds of litters, the other litters are likely sired by lone males living outside of the family group.

CONSERVATION STATUS Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Evidence of the use of Alpine marmots by humans dates to the mid to late Pleistocene. In Europe they have been a source of fur, meat, and fat during most of the last millenium. However, as agriculture increased over the last 500 years marmots were less relied on as a source of food for people. Instead, they were considered agricultural pests and a source of food for shepherd's dogs. In an age of ecotourism, the Alpine marmot is a symbol of the Alps. Nowhere is this more evident then on Mount Roches de Nayes, near Montreux, Switzerland, where you will find an education facility built in 2001 that showcases the Alpine marmot and other marmots of the world. ♦

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