Brooks range marmot, Brower's marmot
The Alaska marmot (Marmota broweri ), also known as the Brooks Range marmot or the Brower's marmot, is a species of rodent in the family Sciuridae. Once considered to be the same species as the hoary marmot, it is now known to be unique. Alaska marmots are found in the scree slopes of the Brooks Range, Alaska. Specifically, they prefer to dwell on rocky, mountainous terrain, generally near lakes. They eat vegetation found on mountainsides, such as grasses, seeds, and lichen. Their relatively thick bodies are covered in dense, grey fur. They live in large colonies that consist of multiple families. During the winter, they hibernate for long periods of time in underground burrows. While not well researched, they are not believed to be particularly threatened, by human activity or otherwise. The Alaskan government has designated February 2 as "Marmot Day," a holiday intended to recognize the prevalence of marmots in the state, similar to the more widely celebrated American holiday of Groundhog Day.
Alaskan marmots possess a short neck, broad and short head, small ears, short powerful legs and feet, bushy and densely furred tail, and a thick body covered in coarse hair. Adult Alaska marmots’ fur on their nose and the dorsal part of their head are usually of a dark color. Their feet may be light or dark in color. M. broweri have tough claws adapted for digging, however the thumbs of their front limbs do not have these claws but flat nails instead. Their body size is highly variable due to hibernation cycles. For males, the average total length is 61 centimetres (24 in) and the average weight is 3.6 kilograms (7.9 lb). Adult females are slightly smaller, having an average length of 58 centimetres (23 in) and 3.2 kilograms (7.1 lb).
In terms of global distribution, the Alaska marmot is Nearctic. Alaska marmots inhabit the mountains that lie north of the Yukon and Porcupine rivers in central and northern Alaska—including the Brooks Range, Ray Mountains, and Kokrines Hills. However, there have been reports of Alaska marmots in the Richardson Mountains in the northern Yukon Territory but these sightings have not yet been confirmed. Their overall distribution is still poorly understood. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does not consider their population "severely fragmented," but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has described it as "patchy."Show More
Alaska marmots are found scattered throughout Alaska as small colonies, each consisting of several families. Their locations have been documented in the Brooks Range from Lake Peters to Cape Lisburne and Cape Sabine. There have been sightings of the species near rivers in the Northern Baird mountains, in the Mulik Hills, near Copter Peak in the DeLong Mountains, and south of the Brooks Range in the Spooky Valley and in the Kokrines Hills.
The Alaska marmots are found in grassland, inland cliffs, and mountain peaks. They are located at elevations of about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) to 1,200 metres (3,900 ft). They are often found in boulder fields, rock slides and outcrops, terminal moraines, and Talus slopes in Alpine tundra with herbaceous forage. The species inhabits slopes surrounding lakes, and are found less commonly away from lakes. Alaska marmots inhabit permanent winter dens that are used for as long as twenty years. The entrances are plugged with vegetation, dirt, and feces. These dens are usually located near a ledge which functions as an observation post. A colony is consists of several individual family burrows built in close proximity to one another. Their fur coloration helps them blend in amongst rocks.Show Less
M. broweri is one of the longer hibernating marmots, being documented to do so up to eight months annually. Alaska marmots accumulate a thick fat layer by late summer to sustain them throughout the winter hibernation. Alaska marmots are active until snow begins to fall, when they will go to their hibernacula from around September until June. Alaska marmots have special winter dens with a single entrance that is plugged with a mixture of dirt, vegetation, and feces during the winter hibernation period. These winter dens are built on exposed ridges that thaw earlier than other areas, and the entire colony stays within the den from September until the plug melts in early May. They then settle in their dens in family units to communally hibernate for the winter.Show More
Communal hibernation may be an adapted strategy to reduce metabolic cost while trying to keep their body temperatures above freezing. During hibernation many of their body functions decrease such as body temperature (averages between 4.5 °C (40.1 °F) and 7.5 °C (45.5 °F)), heart rates, and respiratory rates. Alaska marmot hibernation is not continuous because they will awaken every three or four weeks in order to urinate and defecate. Inside the hibernaculum den, the Alaska marmot has shown long-term hibernation adaptions by their ability to tolerate high CO2 levels and low O2 levels. As an adaption to the Arctic environment and permanently frozen ground, Alaska marmots breed prior to emerging from the winter den. The Alaska marmots will generally emerge from the den during the first two weeks of May.Show Less
Alaska marmots are very social, living in colonies of up to 50 while all sharing a common burrow system. Marmots typically have their own personal den, while the young live with their mother and the father lives in a nearby den. Especially in large colonies, the Alaska marmots utilize sentry duty rolls that are periodically rotated.Show More
M. broweri will mark their territory by secreting a substance from face-glands and rubbing the sides of their face on rocks around their den and various trails.Alaska marmots also enjoy sunbathing and spending a large amount of time in personal grooming.Show Less
The Alaska marmot's main nutrition source is vegetation that grows on mountain sides, which includes grasses, flowers, fruits, grains, legumes, lichen, and occasionally insects. M. bromeri must eat large amounts due to the low nutritional value and the need to prepare for hibernation. Alaska marmots are typically known as omnivores but they have also been described as insectivorous, folivorous, frugivorous, and granivorous.
Male Alaska marmots are polygynous, mating with the monogamous females living on their territory. They are seasonal iteroparous and viviparous breeders that mate once in the early spring and give birth about six weeks later with litter sizes ranging from three to eight and an average litter size of four to five. The male and female Alaska marmots are involved in both raising and protecting the pups in their natal burrow. In both sexes sexual reproductive behaviors are stimulated by odors released from anal scent glands. Before birthing, the female will first close her den off and then she will give birth alone. The gestation period is about five or six weeks. Newly born Alaskan marmots are altricial; hairless, toothless, blind and are quite vulnerable to predators. After about six weeks young marmots have thick, soft fur and they begin to temporarily leave the den. They will go through three coats in their first year until their final one, which resembles adult Alaska marmots. They will hibernate and live with their parents at least one year, they will be fully-grown after two years and reach sexual maturity from two to three years. Marmots life span are not known but it is believed to be about thirteen to fifteen years.
The status of Alaska marmots is not well known due to the difficulties in finding them in their natural habitat. IUCN has ranked the Alaska marmot as least concern, signifying relatively low concern in terms of the dangers they face. Although Alaska marmots may be hunted, their population is stable and not at risk for endangerment. The Alaska marmot has been declared the least threatened species of marmot.