At first glance, you might think you’ve never heard of a marmot. The reality is that unless you’ve been living underground, you’re probably somewhat familiar with at least one type of marmot. Most people have never seen some of the worldwide species of marmots, but every year, there’s one that has the eyes of the U.S. upon him.

Where do Marmots Live?

One of the most common marmots is the Himalayan marmot, which makes its home in the high elevations of the mountain range. These animals are only found above 11,000 feet in the wild, making encounters with them relatively rare.

In the United States, you’re likely to encounter the yellow-bellied marmot in the western states. In the more mountainous parts of the Pacific states, these creatures are common garden animals. East of the Rockies, you’re more likely to encounter groundhogs or woodchucks, which are also part of the marmot genus.

What Characteristics do Marmots Share?

All marmots have five toes on their hind feet and four on their front feet, with sharp, hard claws for burrowing deep underground. Marmots are also diurnal animals, and they can be active any time of day. 

Marmots tend to be social creatures who look out for each other, and they will often whistle sharply to their group when they sense danger is near. In the southeastern states, they’re also called whistle-pigs for that reason.

What do Marmots Eat?

Marmots are true herbivores, living on seeds, grains, fruits and nuts. They love to invade and destroy suburban gardens, manicured lawns and crop fields because fresh grass and garden veggies provide a tasty, nutritious meal. Marmots don’t eat during hibernation, which can last for as long as eight months per year.

Marmots in Pop Culture

It’s impossible to escape the marmot on February 2nd in the United States, as Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual appearance on Groundhog Day to predict when spring will arrive. Truthfully, Phil isn’t a very good prognosticator, as he’s proven to be less accurate than a coin flip, but the tradition continues nonetheless.

Other instances include the film Groundhog Day, which features Bill Murray covering Phil’s yearly prediction for a local TV station. He keeps awakening in a time loop over and over until he discovers what’s been missing in his life.

Outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, camping and playing in the mud are familiar with the Marmot brand of outdoor supplies.

Are Marmots Threatened?

That depends on the species. In Asia, the Himalayan marmots‘ preferred habitats are mostly unsettled by humans, so they’re safe from human activity. Because marmots have the length of the Himalayas to make their homes, and few people ever reach their elevation other than when trying to scale Mount Everest, these marmots are mostly able to flourish on their own and are considered to be of least concern of extinction. In the United States, the yellow-bellied marmot is also not at risk.

But in Canada, it’s a different story. The Vancouver Island marmot nearly went extinct in the 1990s because industrial logging made these creatures easy prey for wolves, golden eagles and cougars. Attempts to reintroduce them to the wild were initially unsuccessful, as cougars simply snatched them up at a young age.

Today, Vancouver Island marmots are often bred in captivity and sent to live in a colony for a year before being released into the wild, which has built their numbers up to around 300. Perhaps they can replenish their population again.

Mormots, often referred to as giant ground squirrels, are generally alive in well throughout North America and Eurasia, and while they’re excellent burrowers, they should probably leave meteorology to the experts.