Winter is not an easy time for animals living in Mount
Rainier National Park. The higher in elevation you go, the tougher the winter
can be, measuring snow in feet,
sometimes up to 15 or 20 feet deep.
In higher elevations, like Paradise in
the sub-alpine, the snow and cold temperatures might last from mid-October into
June. A little extreme, don’t you think?
But some critters like life extreme. One who does is the hoary marmot, Marmota caligata.
Sure, they’re not a large animal. Maybe the size of a big
house cat (20 inches long including
tail, 10-20 pounds), hoary marmots don’t look like fierce winter
survivalists, but they are. All summer, they are hustling to eat as much grass,
leaves, flowers, and seeds to pack on the pounds. Sometimes they gain as much as 50% of their weight.
Once the wintry weather begins, hoary marmots dive into
their burrows. They cuddle up close with other members of the colony and begin
their long seasonal hibernation. Though they come out of hibernation every
couple weeks, typically marmots won’t leave their burrow until Spring, warmer
temperatures, and snow melt have begun.
So do you think you would have what it takes to spend a
winter like a marmot? How do you deal with the extreme winters like those at
remember that though they seem docile, hoary marmots are wild animals. Help
keep wildlife wild by not feeding the marmots.
NPS/I. Metzen Photo (top). Hoary marmot in Paradise meadow
with flowers. July, 2018. NPS/S. Redman Photo (bottom). Close up of hoary
marmot sitting on rocks in Paradise. July, 2011.