Saturday, January 29, 2011

Painting or "Marking" Marmots

At first glance, the marmoteer may appear to be your run-of-the-mill person going through day to day motions: walking to class, reading papers, sitting at a laptop, eating the occasional snack.  In reality, though, marmoteers are artists in the field. 

Marmoteers watch marmots and record which burrows they enter and how they interact with each other.  In order to know which marmot is which, marmoteers spend a great deal of time painting unique symbols or designs on each marmot's back.  In marmoteer lingo, we call this "marking" marmots.  Marking marmots helps us to pick out patterns in individual marmots' behaviors.  Some marmots tend to be bossy, others are friendly and playful, some are lazy, and others are shy.  Marking marmots helps us tell which marmots are still alive and well and which have been snatched up by a predator or did not make it through the winter.

Marmot G hangs out by Johnson Cabin.  Photo courtesy Arianne Messerman.
Marking marmots requires creativity, a steady hand, and patience.  We must hold the marmot so it doesn't bite us and, at the same time, paint the design on the marmot using a tooth brush and cattle dye.  The dye does not hurt the marmot, and it lasts a long time until the marmot has grown a new coat.  Some marmots are squirmy, and they are difficult to mark.  Other marmots have chill personalities and sit serenely as we paint them a beautiful mark.  Marmoteers try their best to paint marks that are easy to paint and easily identifiable with a spotting scope from several angles.  This task becomes tricky when we have many marmots in the same part of the valley. 

All marks must be different, so we are constantly trying to come up with new marks for the babies.  When we were desperate, I created a few of my own this summer.  Treble Clef and Rocket Ship did not turn out very good but Basketball and Sailboat were great.  Letters, numbers, Greek symbols, blobs "blots", and lines are quite common.  Without a doubt, marmoteers will be looking for more mark ideas this summer, so send them our way.

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