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Vancouver Island Marmot (Whistle Pig)

Canada's Most Endangered Mammal


Order: Rodentia

Family: Sciuridae

Genus & Species: Marmota vancouverensis

APPEARANCE

The Vancouver Island marmot is a small, robust-bodied mammal related to the squirrels. It has the distinction of being Canada's most endangered mammal. Vancouver Island marmots are roughly the size of woodchucks another Canadian marmot. They grow to lengths of 28 in (70 cm) and weigh upwards of 7-16 lbs (approx 3-7 kg). They are characterized by a blunt snout ending in a black, flattened nose with large nostrils. The ears are small and rounded, although hearing is very acute. The eyes are small and allow monocular vision. The legs are short and end in long, sharp claws. The feet can be used to grasp food and other objects, and the tail is bushy and squirrel-like.

The Vancouver Island marmot has a coarse, glossy coat that is chocolate-brown in colour. The muzzle, forehead, and breast are white. A light brown patch of fur is located on the top portion of the snout. The legs and the belly are also sprinkled with the lighter brown among the chocolate-brown colour.

Vancouver Island marmots are very vocal and have three different types of alarm calls varying in pitch. They also trill and have their own unique sound not emitted by any other marmot species: a "kee-aw".

Vancouver Island marmot males have a life span of 5-6 years, and females 7-9 years.

HABITAT

The Vancouver Island marmot is found only on Vancouver Island, just off the coast of B.C. (a Canadian province). They can be found on the edges of mountain meadows, rocky slopes, logged sites, and thick clumps of alder trees. Boulders play an integral role in their habitat as they provide lookout towers for predators as well as control the marmot's internal body temperature. As of 1972, Vancouver Island marmots inhabited 15 mountains, but today inhabit fewer. The reason for this is unknown, as the abandoned mountains still seem to be habitable for marmots.

Vancouver Island marmots live in underground burrows, and spend most of their lives there. After hibernating from September-April, they only leave their burrows to feed in the early morning and late evening.

Vancouver Island marmots live in colonies consisting of one older male, a few mature females, several adolescents, and any pups born during the year.

FOOD

Vancouver Island marmots are strictly herbivores, feeding on over 50 plant species. These include Huckleberries, kinnikinnick fruit, cow parsnip, asters, tiger lilies, Phylox, sweet peas, and woolly sunflowers. During the spring they feed mainly on grasses and early-blooming flowers, and during the summer they feed on practically anything: flowers, grasses, leaves, and fruit. Water is obtained from the dew collected on the plants they eat.

ENEMIES

Vancouver Island marmots are an endangered species, and their numbers have been declining since their discovery in 1910. The main reason for this decline is due to habitat loss from ski resorts and logging, as well as hunting and predation from wolves, cougars, black bears, and golden and bald eagles. Today, their numbers are estimated to be anywhere from 70-200.

BREEDING

Vancouver Island marmots reach sexual maturity around 3-4 years of age. The breeding season is during the spring, and they mate underground. 3-5 pups are born after a gestation period of 30 days. The first month of their lives is spent underground with their mother, who is solely responsible for their upbringing. After the first month they will venture out of the burrow. Females do not mate every single year, and therefore only raise about 11 pups in an entire lifetime.

RELATIVES

There are 14 species of marmots worldwide. 4 of these species are found in Canada: the Vancouver Island marmot (the only species found on Vancouver Island), the woodchuck, hoary marmot, and yellow-bellied marmot.

RESOURCES CITED

1. "Fast Facts: Vancouver Island Marmots" Ranger Rick Magazine, Oct. 1994
2. www.islandnet.com/~marmot/subdir/page2.html
3. www.wsdl.winnipeg.mb.ca/ralphbrown/vancouve.htm
4. www.exn.net/main/EndangeredSpecies/marmot.com
5. www.nature.ca/notebooks/english/vanmarm.htm
6. falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~marmota/vanc.html
7. "Marmot" Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia

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