YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll be taking a brief hiatus over the Christmas holidays, and are looking forward to sharing more Wowzerful content with you on January 8th. Until then, please enjoy this week’s issue and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
While the world is filled with Wowzerful creatures that live all over the globe, many creatures choose to call just one or two places home.
This week’s featured critter is endemic to Canada—specifically Vancouver Island—and can’t be found anywhere else in the world!
Brace yourself for a den full of cuteness because this week we’re talking about Vancouver Island Marmots!
Marmots can be found in many areas of the globe, but this specific species—Marmota vancouverensis—only callsthe mountainsides of Vancouver Island home.
Marmots are rodents and are related to squirrels, but they are much bigger.
Vancouver Island Marmots are the largest known marmot species today, and are comparable in size to a large house cat.
They can weigh as much as 7 kilograms, and feature dark chocolate brown fur coats with white patches.
They typically live in small families of around seven, and like to spend the warmer months of the year in the grassy meadows on the south- and west-facing sides of Vancouver Island’s mountains.
If the family grows too large, males will set off to find new mates and establish their own colonies.
Vancouver Island Marmots love steep, avalanche-cleared slopessince they provide plenty of height from which to spot predators while they bathe in the sun.
They’re a favourite snack of golden eagles, wolves, and cougars, and were once hunted to near extinction.
However, with conservation efforts, their numbers are on the rebound once again.
Marmots live primarily on a diet of foraged plants and grasses, which they easily gnaw down using their long, beaver-like teeth.
They often foragein the mornings and evenings when they are more camouflaged and temperatures are lower.
They’ll spend their afternoons basking in the shelter of rocky outcroppings, or in the comfort of their burrows and dens.
Vancouver Island Marmots are social creatures, but hibernate for nearly seven months of the year.
This makes their dens a huge part of their life!
Scientists who have tracked marmots discovered that many families will return to the same den to hibernate year after year.
Their burrowing nature is a significant part of why they prefer the smooth, treeless paths which are made by avalanches, or found in mountainside meadows.
The soil must be loose enough to dig and shape, dense enough to support a tunnel, and deep enough to avoid frost during the coldest winter nights.
This makes the perfect place to build a den surprisingly tricky to find!
As humans have changed many of their natural habitats, the marmots have been known to construct their dens near logging camps or in clear-cut forest areas.
However, as the trees regenerate, this often interferes with their homes and forces themto move elsewhere.
As of Spring 2020, conservationists have observed and tracked roughly 20 colonies of marmots throughout Vancouver Island. Most of them are located around the Mount Washington, Strathcona, and Nanaimo Lakes regions.
While their numbers make them a rare sight in the wild, captive breeding programs at the Toronto and Calgary zoos means you may be able to spot one near you!
Marmots have a distinctive call that has earned them the nickname “whistle pigs.”
Marmots often say hello by bumping noses, and are known to play fight and wrestle. These social behaviours have earned them the adoration of animal lovers for their sheer cuteness.
Mount Washington’s ski resort has played a pivotal role in saving marmots. The paths and runs are essentially manufactured versions of the avalanche areas marmots love. At one time, nearly one-third of the known population of marmots lived on the slopes!
The Vancouver Island Marmot is sometimes referred to as Canada’s panda since it is often the mascot and cute face of wildlife conservation efforts throughout the country.
See how conservationists track and assist Vancouver Island Marmot populations in this short video produced in conjunction with Parks Canada.