The yellow-bellied marmot lives in mountainous areas from Southwestern Canada to the Western United States, including the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. At the edges of their range, the marmots also live in steppes, meadows, and at the edges of forests. They reside in burrows with their colonies of up to 20 individuals. They dig their burrows under rocks, as these places are less visible to predators.
Yellow-bellied marmots spend most of their year hibernating. Starting in September, they hibernate for approximately eight months, through the end of winter. The burrows they use for hibernation are five or six times deeper underground than the burrows they live in throughout the rest of the year. Immediately after waking from hibernation, males without a colony of their own depart and begin to dig a burrow. One male may recruit one to three or four females and have three to five pups with each one. Female offspring stay in the same area where they were born throughout their lives and male offspring leave to start a colony elsewhere when they are about one year old.
Little is known about the role of parents in the early life of yellow-bellied marmots. Mothers nurse their pups for about three weeks. At this time, the pups are ready to leave the burrow. After the pups can leave the burrow, the need for parental care decreases. At approximately seven weeks, the pups are mostly independent. However, because the pups live in the same colony as their parents, social bonds seem to remain strong. It is unknown what role fathers take in the time before the pups leave the burrow.
They are diurnal and generally herbivores, although insects and eggs become part of their diet from time to time. The diet of yellow-bellied marmots usually consists of grass, leaves, flowers, fruits, grains, and legumes. They don’t need to drink much water, as the plants in their diet are already capable of hydrating the marmots.
Emerging from their burrows soon after sunrise, yellow-bellied marmots spend their days foraging, sunning themselves, and engaging in social behaviors like playing and grooming. Play happens between young, yearlings, and between both young and adults. The amount of time dedicated to friendly interactions like play increases the longer that a colony has lived together. Yearlings who have strong social bonds with their colony and exhibit a lot of friendly behaviors may delay moving to their own territory.
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