Writer Frances Backhouse got up close and personal with Marmota vancouverensis while researching her article “Return of the marmot” for the Spring 2013 issue of British Columbia Magazine.
Here’s her list of five fast facts about the Vancouver Island marmot.
The Vancouver Island marmot is the only exclusively Canadian endangered mammal species. It is also one of only five mammal species that live nowhere else but Canada.
Archaeologists searching high-elevation caves have found 800- to 2,600-year-old Vancouver Island marmot bones. Cut marks on the bones show that First Nations hunters skinned the animals for their pelts and butchered them for meat using stone and shell tools.
Deep snow cover helps keep hibernation burrows at a stable temperature of about 5°C during winter. When marmots emerge in spring, they sometimes have to tunnel up through as much as six metres of snow. They find food where the snow has melted around sun-warmed rocks.
Vancouver Island marmots spend about seven months of the year underground and lose 30 to 50 percent of their body mass while they’re sleeping. During the five months they’re active, they pack on weight by eating grasses, sedges, and flowering plants, such as lupines and spreading phlox.
Fur colour is an important clue for judging the age of Vancouver Island marmots. Pups are born with dark brown coats, which fade to rust over their first summer. Yearlings have uniform rusty colouring. Adults sport mottled coats, with patches of old faded fur contrasting against dark new fur.