Olympic Marmot

The Olympic Marmot, Marmota olympus, is a marmot (a rodent in the squirrel family Sciuridae). They are found in alpine and sub alpine meadows and talus slopes of the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. They are close relatives of the Hoary Marmot.

Like most marmots, they are sociable burrowing animals. A typical family consists of a male, two to three females and their young. Newborn marmots stay with their family for at least two years. The burrow will usually be home to a newly born litter and a year old litter. Female marmots have a litter of about four marmots on alternate years. The young do not reach sexual maturity until their third year.

Olympic Marmots hibernate from September through May. This is the most dangerous time for the Olympic Marmot. In years of light snowfall as much as 50% of the young born in that year will perish. After they come out of hibernation, their diet consists largely of roots until new vegetation appears in the spring. Then they feed on grasses, herbs, mosses and flowers as well as the occasional insect. Dry grasses are also brought into the burrows for bedding or food. Colonies are frequently found on southern-facing slopes. The earlier snowmelt leads to more food for the colony.

During the active months of June, July and August, the marmots forage in the morning and afternoon with a break around midday. Before each feeding period they visit the other burrows in the colony. The marmots greet each other by touching noses. During more extended greetings, they may touch nose to cheek and nibble on each other’s ears and neck. They may also engage in play fighting in which two marmots on their hind legs push each other with their paws. The play fighting is more aggressive between older marmots.

Olympic marmots have a variety of distinctive calls or whistles that alert other marmots to predators. There are four basic calls. They are ascending, descending, flat and trills. The first three calls are distinguished by relative frequency of their staring and ending pitch. The trills are a series of ascending calls in rapid succession and are the most rare. These calls are reserved for situations of great danger. The flat calls are the most common. Common predators of the Olympic Marmot are the coyote and puma. The marmots have been observed making alarm calls for a number of large birds of prey as well as bears and bobcats.