May I introduce, the Yellow Bellied Marmot??
What do you do on Groundhog’s Day when you don’t have a local groundhog?? For that matter, what did early American colonists do without a hedgehog? Because the hedgehog was the original hibernating mammal used in Europe to predict the arrival of spring, early Pennsylvania Germans had a quandary when they came to this new country. Hedgehogs are not found in North America, but settlers soon met the groundhog, the next closest thing to a hibernating hedgehog to act as their meteorologist.
But out in the Pacific Northwest, we have no groundhogs or Woodchucks, so the Yellow Bellied Marmot it is! This high elevation alpine engineer is adapted to live in mountain meadows, grasslands and rocky outcrops ranging from 2,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation. They are the largest squirrel in Oregon.
Living in large colonies of one male, several females and their offspring, their favorite activity is sunbathing , which helps regulate their body temperature and perhaps aid in parasite control.
They are true hibernators, and hibernate for up to eight months a year, slowing their heart rate down from some 190 beats a minute to 30 beats a minute. Their body temperature can fall to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. They only take one or two breaths per minute during the hibernation phase. A quick summer of foraging for grasses, herbs, and flowers must sustain them through this time.
They make good ecosystem neighbors as they help aerate the soil, disperse seeds, and provide habitat for other species.
They are sometimes called ‘whistle pigs’ (as are the groundhogs of the eastern US) because of their loud whistle sounds used to warn colony members of potential threats. However, since spring comes late to the high country, I wouldn’t depend on the marmot as a harbinger of early spring. 😜