Friday, July 8, 2011

Where are they?

Over the past decade or so, we usually have our first litters of pups emerge from below ground the last week of June. By July 4th, we're up to our ears in pups.

Photo by Amanda Lea of a pup, June 2010

This year, in which the marmots had a VERY late start, continues to be an exceptional (and not in a good way!) year. Our first litter emerged after 4 July and we're still looking for another one! In the past decade we've had as many as 187 pups to catch at emergence. But this year, with some luck, we hope to have as many as 14 litters but that depends on a lot--the mothers not reabsorbing their embryos because they were in poor body condition after the long winter, and predators like weasels not killing the pups before they emerge.

Another real issue is that we have been seeing a lot of adult females not breeding. Why? Well, as they say, a shortage of good men. Some groups had all the male marmots die and there was nobody to mate with at the end of a long winter. Interestingly, the first litter to emerge was one where the male hibernated with two adult females...they didn't have to emerge through 3 meters of snow to mate (they lived in an avalanche corridor and Julien was watching them earlier in the year as an avalanche approached them...they ducked out of the way!).

I'm sure we'll have more pups soon, but the wait is killing me. I'm concerned that the whole valley will pop at the same time (typically the lower elevation sites emerge about a week or so before the upper elevation sites emerge)...which will create some challenges to trap them all at emergence.

Ahh, life in the mountains...unpredictable yet still exciting.

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