Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)

Vancouver Island marmot adult with juvenile
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Vancouver Island marmot fact file

Vancouver Island marmot description

GenusMarmota (1)

This house-cat sized marmot or ground squirrel was first described in 1910. The Vancouver Island marmot is currently regarded as one of the rarest mammals of North America with fewer than 100 individuals remaining (3). It has quite a stocky body and a blunt, chubby face with small ears (5). The lustrous fur is usually a rich chestnut-brown colour with a creamy white patch around the nose and mouth that extends to the underside of the neck (5). The tail is fairly bushy and there is often a mottled streak of creamy-white fur along the chest and belly. Pups can be identified by their small size and very dark brown to black fur (2).

3.0 - 6.5 kg (4)

Vancouver Island marmot biology

Like all marmots, the Vancouver Island marmot lives in one or more families. Families typically contain one adult male, up to two adult females, sub-adults, juveniles and the offspring produced that year (2). The colony lives in a complex series of underground burrows, and communicates by direct contact and whistling vocalisations including a high-pitched alarm whistle to warn others of impending danger (2). Hibernation occurs each winter between the end of September and early May, and hibernacula are characterised by the presence of grass and mud plugs sealing the burrow entrance during autumn, and tunnels in the snow after the occupants have emerged (2). During hibernation, marmots live off stored fat reserves built up in summer (4). Sexual maturity is reached at about four years of age, after which individuals breed every other year. Mating occurs in the burrow during the months of spring, and the litter, which usually contains three pups, is produced towards the beginning of July (2). The diet consists of over 50 species of grass and flowering plants (2).


Vancouver Island marmot range

The Vancouver Island marmot is endemic to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada (2), between 1864 and 1969, marmots were recorded on 25 different mountains (2). In the past three decades however, the species has been lost from around two thirds of its former range (2). At present it occurs in five adjacent river drainages in south-central Vancouver Island, and around 100 km away in an isolated colony on Mount Washington (2).


Vancouver Island marmot habitat

Marmots tend to inhabit south or west-facing alpine meadows at altitudes of over 1000 m. They require deep soil for their burrows, and a wide variety of food plants (2). They may also occur in clear-cut areas (2).


Vancouver Island marmot status

The Vancouver Island marmot is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Vancouver Island marmot threats

Natural successional processes are probably responsible for the original scarcity of the Vancouver Island marmot, through tree encroachment in the alpine meadows it inhabits. The main causes of the recent severe decline are thought to be the disruption of the habitat due to logging activities, weather fluctuations and increases in deer numbers, which can cause an influx of predators. (4).


Vancouver Island marmot conservation

The Vancouver Island marmot gained legal protection under the British Columbia Wildlife Act in 1980, and a recovery team was set up in 1988 to devise a Recovery Plan (2). A captive breeding programme is now underway with the help of Toronto Zoo (3) and reintroductions are planned.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Sites where hibernation (A winter survival strategy in which an animal's metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained) takes place.
A winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal's metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer. In insects, the correct term for hibernation is 'diapause', a temporary pause in development and growth. Any stage of the lifecycle (eggs, larvae, pupae or adults) may enter diapause, which is typically associated with winter.
Successional processes
The progressive sequence of changes in vegetation types and animal life within a community that, if allowed to continue, result in the formation of a 'climax community' (the last stage in a succession where the vegetation reaches equilibrium with the environment).


  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
  2. Animal Info (January, 2002)
  3. The Marmot Burrow (January, 2002)
  4. National Recovery Plan for the Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife 2000 (January, 2002)
  5. The Vancouver Island Marmot Pages (January, 2002)

Image credit

Vancouver Island marmot adult with juvenile  
Vancouver Island marmot adult with juvenile

© Fletcher & Baylis

Wildside Photography


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