A Close Look at the Feeding Behavior of Marmots

marmots

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Often thought of as pests, marmots can cause a lot of destruction and damage. This is partly because of what and how they eat, and other behaviors. The are worth preserving and some people even eat them, but farmers and ranchers tend not to like them. Either way, learning what their feeding habits are can result in a greater understanding of the critter.

What marmots are

Marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family. There are quite a few different kinds, but the common names for them often relate to the type of country they are most often found in, even when the species is exactly the same. The common names also don’t always use the term; marmot.

For instance, woodchucks and rock chucks are marmots that live in the woods or in and around rocks, though there is nothing in the name that would lead a person to realized from the name alone that they are marmots.

Marmots den

Marmots are burrowers and their dens do relate strongly to their feeding behavior. They have tunnel systems that tend to be expansive, which is understandable since these animals can grow in excess of 15 pounds. Sometimes the tunnels can reach a depth of about six feet and a total length of over 30 feet. Most tunnels also have multiple exits. It is common for other ground squirrels to have a lot of exits, too.

The size of the tunnel system allows the animal to not only eat while in the tunnels, it lets them stock up on food, which they store in underground chambers for later use. In fact, most of the time marmots are seen doing something besides sunning themselves, they are gathering food rather than actually eating it.

What and how marmots eat

Marmots are mostly vegetarians. This is true of most squirrel species. Marmots eat seeds, leaves, grass, nuts, roots and berries, as well as stems, buds and branches. In the early spring, as annuals, perennials, bushes and trees begin to bud out, marmots leave their burrows, usually with a big appetite.

At this time, marmots most often concentrate on the fresh, young, tender leaves they find in abundance. They may actually pause to eat the food in the spring rather than stock-piling it.

As the year passes, they start paying more attention to ripe or ripening seeds. These help the animal put on weight. Many of these seeds will be stored underground.

They will need the food during the colder weather of late fall and winter. Some of the grasses are also stored and some are used to line their sleeping chambers. It is usually during this period that they may also eat invertebrates such as insects, worms, sowbugs, snails and spiders, all of which can increase the amount of protein that they consume. On occasion, marmots have been reported as having eaten eggs, birds and even lizards, though this isn’t common and it doesn’t make up a major part of the diet, normally. These squirrels have also been seen gnawing on the bones of large, dead animals.

This is the time when the pups are weaned and the little ones begin to eat solid foods. With the abundance of available food, the little ones grow rapidly.

Wintertime

When temperatures get down to just above freezing, marmots usually retreat to their burrows. These squirrels can hibernate, but it isn’t a deep hibernation like in most squirrels. They often wake up enough to eat from their stockpile of stored food.

They might even leave their dens for short periods to nibble on buds if the weather warms enough.

A marmot is very able to create a lot of problems for gardeners because of they love eating plants. It is often the tunnels that cause the worst damage, however. The marmot holes can be dangerous for hikers or animals like cattle and horses Additionally, if the tunnels cut into a river or canal bank, it doesn’t take much for flooding to happen.

Marmots are interesting and worth a bit of observation. Still, it isn’t what their diet is and how they eat it that put marmots to be on a farmer’s or gardener’s list of troublesome pests. It is doubtful that these big squirrels, as large as they are, have a significant impact on harvests in most places.


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