Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where are all of the marmots?: Emerging from hibernation

We start the field season in mid April. That’s when marmots wake up from hibernation. There is always a lot of snow, which might last for another month or so. It takes a while to habituate to the silence and quietness, especially coming from a city like Los Angeles. But it is breathtaking and probably my favorite season. Every morning we visit the locations where we know there were marmots the year before (and for the last 50 years, as marmots are quite faithful to their burrows). When we get to one of the marmot colonies, we sit in the snow for a while, and we write down if we see any marmots.

It can take days to see the first one, but when we see it, it’s very exciting! I get impatient to see which of the youngest animals will emerge. They are the ones that were born the previous summer, and as hibernation lasts so long (around 7-8 months), many of the little ones do not make it.

When one marmot emerges, we try to identify it. We recognize them because each marmot has an individual mark on their back. We draw these marks with black dye and a paintbrush. With spotting scopes, these symbols are easily identified, even from a far away.

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