Marmots

Marmot Snapshot

Marmots are the largest of the ground squirrels and there are four species in BC: hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), yellow-bellied marmot (M. flaviventris), Vancouver Island marmot (M. vancouverensis) and the woodchuck (M. monax). Of the four species, yellow-bellied marmots (aka rockchuck) and woodchucks (aka groundhogs) are the ones most likely to be found in conflict as their ranges overlap dense human developments. Hoary marmots are typically found at higher elevations while the Vancouver Island marmots are a species at risk and there are less than 200 individuals in the wild.

All marmots are protected under the BC Wildlife Act. While trapping and relocating yellow-bellied marmots and woodchucks without a permit is allowed if they are causing damage on a person’s property, it can be challenging to do so humanely and safely. WildSafeBC recommends exploring other options under “Conflict Reduction” that may have longer lasting results. If removal is necessary, consider contacting a qualified pest management contractor.

Wild Marmot Facts

  • Vancouver Island marmots are a species at risk; in 2001 there were less than 30 in the wild. Their population increased to around 200 with intensive breeding programs and conservation efforts
  • When hibernating, marmots may only take one breath every few minutes
  • Abandoned marmot dens can be homes for other animals. Larger animals like coyotes and badgers may use them after expanding the openings
  • The community of Whistler is said to have been named after the “whistling” hoary marmots that are found in upper mountains
  • Yellow-bellied marmots are also known as rockchucks as they like to live near rock outcrops
  • A melanistic woodchuck will have black fur
  • Some marmots may only have a 4 month window to breed, feed, raise young and then prepare for another 8 months of hibernation
  • Woodchucks are also known as groundhogs; on average they are the smallest of the marmotsbut they can grow up to 14 kg!

Identification

Marmots are the largest of the ground squirrels and are stocky rodents with bushy tails about a quarter the length of their body.

While hoary marmot coats can be highly variable in colour, their shoulder, head and tail tends to be darker (brown to black) while their snout tends to be white with a patch between the eyes.

As their name suggests, yellow-bellied marmots have yellow-tinged fur along their underside that can also be tinged red. They also have a noticeable white patch between their eyes and may have yellow-speckling along the sides of their neck.

Vancouver Island marmots tend to be darker with white snouts and have white bellies and foreheads.

Woodchucks tend to be the smallest with a brownish coat but their fur can range from yellowish to dark reddish-brown. Their belly is straw-coloured and their feet are black. Woodchucks are known to occasionally have melanistic (all black) or albino (all white and lacking any pigment) fur.

Marmot tracks show 5 toes in the front and 4 in the back and are about 6.5 cm long. While their scat resembles cat droppings, it will consist mostly of vegetation.

Biology

Marmots are herbivorous rodents that dig burrows for shelter. They are true hibernators and spend the winter in underground dens. In the fall they need to increases their food consumption and gain weight for winter hibernation as they do not store food in their burrows. While well-adapted to digging with thick, long curved claws, yellow-bellied marmots can also climb trees. Hoary marmots weigh around 4.6 kg while yellow-bellied marmots weigh 2-5 kg. Vancouver Island marmots can weigh up to 7.5 kg but average 4 kg. Woodchucks tend to weigh 2-4 kg but can weigh up to 14 kg.

Depending on species and location, marmots can be preyed upon by many species including eagles, hawks, bears, cougars, bobcats, wolverines, coyotes and badgers. Young are often at risk of snake predation when their habitats overlap. Their diet consists mostly of grasses and forbs but they may also eat shrub leaves and insects.

Marmots breed shortly after emerging from their dens in early spring and a month later will give birth to two to eight young. Their offspring will stay with them until they are two years old. Marmots typically begin breeding when they are three or four years old and have a litter every other year.

Woodchucks will begin reproducing earlier, typically as young as two, and can have litters every year. In the wild, marmots have been recorded living as old as ten. Woodchucks are the shortest-lived marmot species in BC and while they can live up to six years, they tend to average two to three. However in captivity, they have been recorded to live as old as 22.

Behaviour

Marmots are most often observed at dawn and dusk but are active throughout the day (diurnal). As they are prey for a number of species, they tend to stay close to the entrances of their burrows. They spend their days foraging, sunbathing, grooming and even dustbathing. Marmots will often have a lookout that will sound an alarm if they feel threatened. The hoary marmot is also called the "whistling" marmot for their high-pitched and loud alarm. Marmots live in colonies of 10-20 individuals. Males will defend one to four mates at the same time. While females tend to remain with the maternal colony, males may leave to establish a new colony elsewhere.

Woodchucks, while diurnal, can also be active at night. While they are the most solitary of the marmot species, several individuals can be found sharing the same burrows. In winter, they tend to hibernate alone.

Range and Habitat

All marmots prefer ground that is suitable for digging burrows and prefer locations with rock outcrops that can hide and protect their burrow entrance and for use as lookout platforms. Burrow depth ranges from 0.9m to 4.5m. The deeper burrows located below the frost line are used for hibernation and are referred to as a hibernaculum.

Hoary marmots prefer higher elevations and can be found in mountainous areas throughout BC. The Vancouver Island marmot is closely related to the hoary marmot but is only found in the small pockets of mountainous areas on Vancouver Island. The Vancouver Island marmot is considered one of the rarest animals in North America and their wild population numbered fewer than 30 in 2001. With intensive conservation efforts, their population is now approximately 200.

In BC, yellow-bellied marmots tend to be in the south-central portion and can be found at lower elevations and in more arid conditions than hoary marmots. They are well-adapted to establishing their colonies at disturbed sites and near human infrastructures. As such, this species is more likely to be found in conflict with humans. A yellow-bellied marmot's territory may be two to three hectares around a number of summer burrows.

Woodchucks are found in the Columbia Mountains, southern Rocky Mountains and most of the central and northern interior excluding the dry grasslands. They prefer open lowland areas near forest edges.

Marmot Safety

Like other wildlife, never feed or approach a marmot. Marmots who are deliberately fed or able to access human-provided food sources may become food conditioned, whereby they continue to seek out the unnatural food source. This can lead to human habituation, with marmots tolerating humans in close proximity and possibly even becoming aggressive when begging for food. Be sure to give them a respectful amount of space and ensure they always have an escape route. A marmot displaying defensive or aggressive behaviours may chatter its teeth or produce vocalizations including hissing, growling or squealing.

Marmots are large rodents that can inflict a painful bite or scratch if handled. Like other animals, they may also have fleas or ticks that carry disease. Never handle a dead animal with bare hands and avoid contact with feces or urine.

Conflict Reduction with Marmots

Yellow-bellied marmots are the species most likely to come into conflict with humans as we tend to share the same habitat for our communities. Marmots may cause damage by eating crops, damaging gardens and making burrows on golf courses, sports fields and in and around buildings. Burrow openings can be a hazard for livestock and farm machinery. While uncommon in BC, some marmots have been reported chewing on hoses in US National Parks. Since marmots feed on widely available grasses and forbs it can be challenging to remove all attractants, however intentional feeding should always be avoided.

All marmots are protected under the Wildlife Act and Vancouver Island marmots are also protected under the Species at Risk Act. Permits are required for trapping and moving live animals. However, yellow-bellied marmots and woodchucks fall under Schedule B. A property owner, or an agent working with their permission, would be allowed to remove yellow-bellied marmots or woodchucks from their property without a permit if they are causing damage, however, removal is usually only a short-term solution and marmots will re-occupy the site if it is still suitable habitat.

Landowners may also trap and translocate yellow-bellied marmots or woodchucks without a permit (less than 10 km from the capture site) but translocation is also not an encouraged management technique to resolve wildlife conflict issues due to the risks involved. Animals that are translocated usually travel long distances from their release sites. They often suffer from starvation, predation, exposure and vehicle collisions. Those that do survive may return to the original site or become conflict animals elsewhere.

If you do choose to trap the animal a live box trap is probably your best choice. Traps can be found at most hardware stores. Marmots can be difficult to handle (and euthanize if you chose to do so) humanely and safely. If removal of marmots is considered necessary, we recommend hiring a qualified and reputable "pest management" contractor.

Before considering removing marmots from your property it is best to explore other options first such as removing food sources and using exclusion strategies. For large property owners, consider if the marmots need to be removed at all or if coexistence is possible. Below are suggestions that may be helpful in humanely dissuading marmots from becoming established near your home or property.

Do Not Feed Wildlife

While luring wildlife away from your crops with diversionary feeding may sound attractive at the time, it often leads to negative consequences. This includes the use of inappropriate foods that result in poor health for the animals or even attracting more animals to the area. Feeding wildlife leads to human habituation and food conditioning (see Safety Section above).

Humane Harassment

Discourage marmots from becoming established when they first appear. This can include expanding the openings of their burrow entrances, clearing away vegetation and packing entrances with natural materials such as rocks, hay and dirt. You can also try using repellents such as kitty litter soaked in dog or cat urine. To be effective these efforts must be consistent and continuous. Before undertaking any forms of harassment, ensure that there are no young in the burrows and that they are mobile. Also be aware that snakes may be in the burrows so never place your hands or face near openings.

Deactivating a burrow system

Marmots show strong site fidelity and may return if a burrow system is not deactivated. Before disturbing a burrow system, ensure that all animals have left. Ensure that the animals are not hibernating and do not undertake this in the winter. Note that some animals may estivate (summer hibernation) when food resources are limited starting in late summer. When the animals are active, stuff newspaper in all of the burrow openings and inspect them over 48 hours for movement. Once you can confirm no animals are in the burrows, seal all openings with 12mm (1/2 inch) hardware cloth that is cut in 90 cm sections and buried at least 30 cm.

Change the quality of the habitat

Marmots need to keep good sightlines of their burrow entrances. Placing a 3 foot high solid perimeter fence around a colony may prevent the colony from spreading or even encourage existing colonies to relocate. Silt fencing can be used for this purpose and should be buried at least 30cm underground or an apron left on top of the ground on the animal side. Note that this strategy may be less effective in urban situations where marmots have adopted to living in highly disturbed environments.

Prevent access to buildings and structures

Inspect the perimeter of structures and porches for damage and access points. Block access by using wire mesh (1.25 cm size). Ensure the property is tidy and that unused equipment is removed that may provide shelter for marmots and other rodents.

Prevent access to fruit trees and gardens

Flashing can be wrapped around trees to discourage marmots from climbing up trunks to access fruit. Chicken wire can be laid down before crops become established and may help dissuade the marmots from digging up plants. Chicken or wire mesh can be used to construct a small fence that should stand about 1m tall. To help prevent climbing, leave the top third of the fence unsupported, so that it would be wobbly if a marmot attempted to climb it. If a stiff fence is constructed, bend the top quarter or third so it is horizontal and will be difficult to climb over. As marmots are excellent diggers, to prevent tunneling under, a fence needs to continue 30cm underground or have an apron.

Traveling to areas with marmots

Before heading out to camp or hike to parks in Canada or the US, be sure to check for any advisories on their websites. In some parks in California, they may advise bringing a tarp and ropes to prevent marmots from accessing vehicle hoses if they are parked and left unattended. Other animals such as porcupines have also been known to chew on hoses and other rubber materials.

Marmot Resources

  • BC Conservation Data Centre
  • Hadidian, John. (2007). Woodchucks. In Wild neighbors: The humane approach to living with wildlife (2nd ed.; pp. 239-243). Washington, DC: Humane Society Press.
  • Klinkenberg, Brian, editor. 2019. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia.See the Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia
  • Link, R. (2004). Ground squirrels and marmots. In Living with wildlife in the Pacific Northwest (pp. 85-93). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team. (2017). Recovery plan for the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) in British Columbia.
Snapshot

Marmot Snapshot

Marmots are the largest of the ground squirrels and there are four species in BC: hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), yellow-bellied marmot (M. flaviventris), Vancouver Island marmot (M. vancouverensis) and the woodchuck (M. monax). Of the four species, yellow-bellied marmots (aka rockchuck) and woodchucks (aka groundhogs) are the ones most likely to be found in conflict as their ranges overlap dense human developments. Hoary marmots are typically found at higher elevations while the Vancouver Island marmots are a species at risk and there are less than 200 individuals in the wild.

All marmots are protected under the BC Wildlife Act. While trapping and relocating yellow-bellied marmots and woodchucks without a permit is allowed if they are causing damage on a person’s property, it can be challenging to do so humanely and safely. WildSafeBC recommends exploring other options under “Conflict Reduction” that may have longer lasting results. If removal is necessary, consider contacting a qualified pest management contractor.

Wild Facts

Wild Marmot Facts

  • Vancouver Island marmots are a species at risk; in 2001 there were less than 30 in the wild. Their population increased to around 200 with intensive breeding programs and conservation efforts
  • When hibernating, marmots may only take one breath every few minutes
  • Abandoned marmot dens can be homes for other animals. Larger animals like coyotes and badgers may use them after expanding the openings
  • The community of Whistler is said to have been named after the “whistling” hoary marmots that are found in upper mountains
  • Yellow-bellied marmots are also known as rockchucks as they like to live near rock outcrops
  • A melanistic woodchuck will have black fur
  • Some marmots may only have a 4 month window to breed, feed, raise young and then prepare for another 8 months of hibernation
  • Woodchucks are also known as groundhogs; on average they are the smallest of the marmotsbut they can grow up to 14 kg!

Identification

Marmots are the largest of the ground squirrels and are stocky rodents with bushy tails about a quarter the length of their body.

While hoary marmot coats can be highly variable in colour, their shoulder, head and tail tends to be darker (brown to black) while their snout tends to be white with a patch between the eyes.

As their name suggests, yellow-bellied marmots have yellow-tinged fur along their underside that can also be tinged red. They also have a noticeable white patch between their eyes and may have yellow-speckling along the sides of their neck.

Vancouver Island marmots tend to be darker with white snouts and have white bellies and foreheads.

Woodchucks tend to be the smallest with a brownish coat but their fur can range from yellowish to dark reddish-brown. Their belly is straw-coloured and their feet are black. Woodchucks are known to occasionally have melanistic (all black) or albino (all white and lacking any pigment) fur.

Marmot tracks show 5 toes in the front and 4 in the back and are about 6.5 cm long. While their scat resembles cat droppings, it will consist mostly of vegetation.

Biology

Marmots are herbivorous rodents that dig burrows for shelter. They are true hibernators and spend the winter in underground dens. In the fall they need to increases their food consumption and gain weight for winter hibernation as they do not store food in their burrows. While well-adapted to digging with thick, long curved claws, yellow-bellied marmots can also climb trees. Hoary marmots weigh around 4.6 kg while yellow-bellied marmots weigh 2-5 kg. Vancouver Island marmots can weigh up to 7.5 kg but average 4 kg. Woodchucks tend to weigh 2-4 kg but can weigh up to 14 kg.

Depending on species and location, marmots can be preyed upon by many species including eagles, hawks, bears, cougars, bobcats, wolverines, coyotes and badgers. Young are often at risk of snake predation when their habitats overlap. Their diet consists mostly of grasses and forbs but they may also eat shrub leaves and insects.

Marmots breed shortly after emerging from their dens in early spring and a month later will give birth to two to eight young. Their offspring will stay with them until they are two years old. Marmots typically begin breeding when they are three or four years old and have a litter every other year.

Woodchucks will begin reproducing earlier, typically as young as two, and can have litters every year. In the wild, marmots have been recorded living as old as ten. Woodchucks are the shortest-lived marmot species in BC and while they can live up to six years, they tend to average two to three. However in captivity, they have been recorded to live as old as 22.

Behaviour

Marmots are most often observed at dawn and dusk but are active throughout the day (diurnal). As they are prey for a number of species, they tend to stay close to the entrances of their burrows. They spend their days foraging, sunbathing, grooming and even dustbathing. Marmots will often have a lookout that will sound an alarm if they feel threatened. The hoary marmot is also called the "whistling" marmot for their high-pitched and loud alarm. Marmots live in colonies of 10-20 individuals. Males will defend one to four mates at the same time. While females tend to remain with the maternal colony, males may leave to establish a new colony elsewhere.

Woodchucks, while diurnal, can also be active at night. While they are the most solitary of the marmot species, several individuals can be found sharing the same burrows. In winter, they tend to hibernate alone.

Range and Habitat

All marmots prefer ground that is suitable for digging burrows and prefer locations with rock outcrops that can hide and protect their burrow entrance and for use as lookout platforms. Burrow depth ranges from 0.9m to 4.5m. The deeper burrows located below the frost line are used for hibernation and are referred to as a hibernaculum.

Hoary marmots prefer higher elevations and can be found in mountainous areas throughout BC. The Vancouver Island marmot is closely related to the hoary marmot but is only found in the small pockets of mountainous areas on Vancouver Island. The Vancouver Island marmot is considered one of the rarest animals in North America and their wild population numbered fewer than 30 in 2001. With intensive conservation efforts, their population is now approximately 200.

In BC, yellow-bellied marmots tend to be in the south-central portion and can be found at lower elevations and in more arid conditions than hoary marmots. They are well-adapted to establishing their colonies at disturbed sites and near human infrastructures. As such, this species is more likely to be found in conflict with humans. A yellow-bellied marmot's territory may be two to three hectares around a number of summer burrows.

Woodchucks are found in the Columbia Mountains, southern Rocky Mountains and most of the central and northern interior excluding the dry grasslands. They prefer open lowland areas near forest edges.

Safety

Marmot Safety

Like other wildlife, never feed or approach a marmot. Marmots who are deliberately fed or able to access human-provided food sources may become food conditioned, whereby they continue to seek out the unnatural food source. This can lead to human habituation, with marmots tolerating humans in close proximity and possibly even becoming aggressive when begging for food. Be sure to give them a respectful amount of space and ensure they always have an escape route. A marmot displaying defensive or aggressive behaviours may chatter its teeth or produce vocalizations including hissing, growling or squealing.

Marmots are large rodents that can inflict a painful bite or scratch if handled. Like other animals, they may also have fleas or ticks that carry disease. Never handle a dead animal with bare hands and avoid contact with feces or urine.

Conflict Reduction

Conflict Reduction with Marmots

Yellow-bellied marmots are the species most likely to come into conflict with humans as we tend to share the same habitat for our communities. Marmots may cause damage by eating crops, damaging gardens and making burrows on golf courses, sports fields and in and around buildings. Burrow openings can be a hazard for livestock and farm machinery. While uncommon in BC, some marmots have been reported chewing on hoses in US National Parks. Since marmots feed on widely available grasses and forbs it can be challenging to remove all attractants, however intentional feeding should always be avoided.

All marmots are protected under the Wildlife Act and Vancouver Island marmots are also protected under the Species at Risk Act. Permits are required for trapping and moving live animals. However, yellow-bellied marmots and woodchucks fall under Schedule B. A property owner, or an agent working with their permission, would be allowed to remove yellow-bellied marmots or woodchucks from their property without a permit if they are causing damage, however, removal is usually only a short-term solution and marmots will re-occupy the site if it is still suitable habitat.

Landowners may also trap and translocate yellow-bellied marmots or woodchucks without a permit (less than 10 km from the capture site) but translocation is also not an encouraged management technique to resolve wildlife conflict issues due to the risks involved. Animals that are translocated usually travel long distances from their release sites. They often suffer from starvation, predation, exposure and vehicle collisions. Those that do survive may return to the original site or become conflict animals elsewhere.

If you do choose to trap the animal a live box trap is probably your best choice. Traps can be found at most hardware stores. Marmots can be difficult to handle (and euthanize if you chose to do so) humanely and safely. If removal of marmots is considered necessary, we recommend hiring a qualified and reputable "pest management" contractor.

Before considering removing marmots from your property it is best to explore other options first such as removing food sources and using exclusion strategies. For large property owners, consider if the marmots need to be removed at all or if coexistence is possible. Below are suggestions that may be helpful in humanely dissuading marmots from becoming established near your home or property.

Do Not Feed Wildlife

While luring wildlife away from your crops with diversionary feeding may sound attractive at the time, it often leads to negative consequences. This includes the use of inappropriate foods that result in poor health for the animals or even attracting more animals to the area. Feeding wildlife leads to human habituation and food conditioning (see Safety Section above).

Humane Harassment

Discourage marmots from becoming established when they first appear. This can include expanding the openings of their burrow entrances, clearing away vegetation and packing entrances with natural materials such as rocks, hay and dirt. You can also try using repellents such as kitty litter soaked in dog or cat urine. To be effective these efforts must be consistent and continuous. Before undertaking any forms of harassment, ensure that there are no young in the burrows and that they are mobile. Also be aware that snakes may be in the burrows so never place your hands or face near openings.

Deactivating a burrow system

Marmots show strong site fidelity and may return if a burrow system is not deactivated. Before disturbing a burrow system, ensure that all animals have left. Ensure that the animals are not hibernating and do not undertake this in the winter. Note that some animals may estivate (summer hibernation) when food resources are limited starting in late summer. When the animals are active, stuff newspaper in all of the burrow openings and inspect them over 48 hours for movement. Once you can confirm no animals are in the burrows, seal all openings with 12mm (1/2 inch) hardware cloth that is cut in 90 cm sections and buried at least 30 cm.

Change the quality of the habitat

Marmots need to keep good sightlines of their burrow entrances. Placing a 3 foot high solid perimeter fence around a colony may prevent the colony from spreading or even encourage existing colonies to relocate. Silt fencing can be used for this purpose and should be buried at least 30cm underground or an apron left on top of the ground on the animal side. Note that this strategy may be less effective in urban situations where marmots have adopted to living in highly disturbed environments.

Prevent access to buildings and structures

Inspect the perimeter of structures and porches for damage and access points. Block access by using wire mesh (1.25 cm size). Ensure the property is tidy and that unused equipment is removed that may provide shelter for marmots and other rodents.

Prevent access to fruit trees and gardens

Flashing can be wrapped around trees to discourage marmots from climbing up trunks to access fruit. Chicken wire can be laid down before crops become established and may help dissuade the marmots from digging up plants. Chicken or wire mesh can be used to construct a small fence that should stand about 1m tall. To help prevent climbing, leave the top third of the fence unsupported, so that it would be wobbly if a marmot attempted to climb it. If a stiff fence is constructed, bend the top quarter or third so it is horizontal and will be difficult to climb over. As marmots are excellent diggers, to prevent tunneling under, a fence needs to continue 30cm underground or have an apron.

Traveling to areas with marmots

Before heading out to camp or hike to parks in Canada or the US, be sure to check for any advisories on their websites. In some parks in California, they may advise bringing a tarp and ropes to prevent marmots from accessing vehicle hoses if they are parked and left unattended. Other animals such as porcupines have also been known to chew on hoses and other rubber materials.

Resources

Marmot Resources

  • BC Conservation Data Centre
  • Hadidian, John. (2007). Woodchucks. In Wild neighbors: The humane approach to living with wildlife (2nd ed.; pp. 239-243). Washington, DC: Humane Society Press.
  • Klinkenberg, Brian, editor. 2019. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia.See the Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia
  • Link, R. (2004). Ground squirrels and marmots. In Living with wildlife in the Pacific Northwest (pp. 85-93). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team. (2017). Recovery plan for the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) in British Columbia.