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On February 2nd every year Groundhog Day is celebrated on the east coast when groundhogs supposedly come out of hibernation to check and see if spring is in the air. Are Groundhogs the same as the Yellow-bellied Marmots we have here in Colorado? Although similar in appearance they are not the same. Both Marmots and groundhogs belong to the rodent family Sciuridae and the genus Marmota. This family includes a variety of species of ground squirrels, each with their own characteristics.
Marmots and groundhogs are the largest and stockiest of the squirrels. One way to tell the difference is by looking at their heads and their tails. Marmots have a dark head with a white band across the bridge of the nose. They also have bushy tails. Groundhogs heads are more uniform in color and their tails are smoother and more compact.
Marmots are widespread in western North America. They can be found in alpine meadows and sometimes come down to the lower foothills, typically above 6,500 feet. Groundhogs are more common in the mid-west and northeast sections of North America. They favor the plains and forest clearings. Both animals are burrowing creatures and hibernate during the winter. In the summer, they can often be viewed on large rocks and boulders, sunning themselves.
Groundhogs and marmots are intelligent animals that live in communities and communicate with each other by alarm calls that sound like whistling.
More in-depth information about Colorado marmots can be found in the book “Mammals of Colorado” which can be borrowed from our library. Check out this coloring page from the Parks and Wildlife Division along with a species profile.
Perhaps here in Colorado we should start celebrating “Marmot” day….