Alpine marmot

Marmota (Marmota) marmota

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In spite of clear differences in size and behaviour, marmots actually belong to the same zoological family as the squirrel; indeed they are the largest and heaviest member of the squirrel family. Females are called "cats" and males are called "bears".
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Alpine marmots, native to Europe, are compactly built, having thick fur and comparatively stocky legs and ears. They are thus well adapted to high mountainous regions as they lose very little heat through the surface area of their body. With few exceptions, they live above tree level at a height upward of around 2,000 meters. During the short summer, lasting on average six months, they have time enough to mate, give birth to and wean their young as well as acquiring plentiful fat reserves. Whole colonies subsequently withdraw into their burrows and begin a six-month-long hibernation. Their hibernation is particularly deep; heart-rate and breathing slow down considerably in order to save energy. During this time they draw on their extensive fat reserves. During the last Ice Age (Younger Dryas), estimated around 12,900 to 11,700 years ago, large swathes of central Europe were tundra. The cold-loving marmots were widespread during this time. The return of a mild climate to Europe helps explain why today they are now only found in patches across the Carpathians, Alps and Apennine mountains. Warmth-loving animals returned and populated large parts of Europe. Marmots could not compete and withdrew to so-called "cold weather refuges", predominantly northern and mountain regions. Numerous alpine animals and plant communities similarly retreated. Such cold-adapted populations are known as "glacial relicts". During the 20th century, humans introduced Alpine marmots into the Pyrenees, the Vosges and other mountainous areas. A number of marmots were introduced into the Black Forest between 1954 and 1957. Their population is estimated to contain 30 individuals.

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