All Things Natural: Yellow-bellied Marmots are now hibernating

Yellow-bellied Marmots at Allan Brooks Nature Centre have now all gone underground for the season.

Q: Where are Yellow-bellied Marmots typically found?

A:  Yellow-bellied Marmots are found in open grasslands, high rocky areas, and sloped meadow habitats, all of which can be found at Allan Brooks Nature Centre. Yellow-bellied Marmots use rocky areas near their burrows both for sunning themselves and for observation of predators. They build burrows that are more than one metre in depth and often have several entrances. Burrow tunnels can be 10- to-70-metres in length. They generally choose the best drained soils in their territory in which to build. Burrows built for hibernation are as much as five-to-seven metres deep. For reproduction, they build grass nests inside the burrows.

Q: What do Yellow-bellied Marmots eat?

A:  Marmots are mainly herbivores, but they may consume some animals occasionally. Yellow-bellied Marmots eat the leaves and blossoms of many different plants and grasses. They also eat some fruits, legumes, grains, and even occasionally insects. In the late summer, they forage for seeds in preparation for winter hibernation. They confine themselves to food found on or near the ground. No food is stored for hibernation; marmots rely on accumulated body fat to provide them energy during the fall and winter of each year.

Q: Have Yellow-bellied Marmots already started hibernating?

A:  Yes, the Yellow-bellied Marmots at Allan Brooks Nature Centre have now all gone underground for the season. Their period of hibernation typically occurs from early August through early March each year. The Yellow-bellied Marmot, like other ground-burrowing rodents, is an obligate hibernator whose body temperature drops to near ambient (environmental) temperature. Their heart rate and respiration rates slow drastically, and the animal appears to be in a deep sleep. Hibernation is a physiological adaptation that some animals have acquired to survive conditions where food is scarce.

All Things Natural is a public education and community engagement project of Allan Brooks Nature Centre Society that is aimed at promoting public enjoyment and increasing awareness and appreciation of nature in the Okanagan. If you have a question about nature that you’ve always wanted to know or recently wondered, please send your question via email to askanaturalist@gmail.com.

Aaron Deans is the executive director of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre Society.