Tag Archives: Marmots

Alpine marmot – Marmota marmota – Marmota alpina

The Alpine marmot – Marmota marmota – Marmota alpina is a large ground squirrel that belongs to the genus Marmota. This includes other marmot species found in North America and Asia. This species is found in the mountainous regions of central and southern Europe, including the Alps, the Carpathians, and the Pyrenees. They prefer alpine meadows, rocky slopes, and talus fields at elevations ranging from 800 to 3200 meters above sea level.

(Top image adult specimen of alpine marmot (Marmota marmota). Image by Carole et Denis Favre-Bonvin.)

Overall, the Alpine marmot is an interesting and important species in the alpine ecosystem. It plays a role in seed dispersal and providing food for predators such as foxes and eagles. However, like many other alpine species, they are threatened by habitat loss and climate change. So this means that conservation efforts are important to ensure their survival.

Description and habits

Adult Alpine marmots typically weigh between 3 to 7 kilograms (6.6 to 15.4 pounds) and measure about 40 to 50 centimeters (16 to 20 inches) in length, with a tail that is about one-third of their body length. They have a dense and furry coat that is usually brown in color with lighter patches on their chest and face. They also have a distinct white spot on their forehead and long, sharp claws for digging burrows.

Alpine marmots are social animals that live in large groups known as colonies. A colony can consist of anywhere from two to more than 20 individuals, with an average of around 10 to 15. Each colony has a hierarchical structure, with a dominant male and female who are the leaders and breeders of the group. Other members of the colony are subordinate and help with tasks such as babysitting and keeping watch for predators.


The Alpine marmot is a herbivore and feeds on a variety of plants, including grasses, herbs, and shrubs. They are active during the day and spend most of their time foraging for food or sunbathing near their burrows. During the winter months, they hibernate in their burrows to conserve energy and survive the cold temperatures and lack of food.

The Alpine marmot – Marmota marmota – Marmota alpina in Spain

The Spanish name for the Alpine marmot is “marmota alpina“. The Alpine marmot is found in several mountain ranges in Spain, including the Pyrenees, the Cantabrian Mountains, and the Sistema Central.

Alpine marmot – Marmota marmota – Marmota alpina
Threats and conversation status

In Spain, the Alpine marmot is considered to be a threatened species. Habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting, and disease are the primary threats to their survival. The Spanish government has implemented several conservation measures to protect the Alpine marmot, including establishing protected areas and limiting hunting and other human activities in their habitat.

A poorly planned reintroduction: the case of the Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota)

The Alpine marmot became extinct in the Pyrenees more than 15,000 years ago. Between 1948 and 1988 around 400 individuals were reintroduced in the French Pyrenees from the French Alps population (although the exact number or location where they were taken from is unknown). Marmots quickly settled and colonized almost the entire southern side of the Pyrenees.

Thanks to a bit of fur used for DNA extraction and a collaboration between LBBE (Laboratoire de Biologie et Evolutive Biometrics, Lyon, France) and CREAF (Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications, UAB), we discovered that the three Pyrenean populations studied (Andorra, Cerdanya and Ripollès) have low genetic diversity, come from two alpine populations and have not exchanged genetic material between them. More specifically, the marmots of Andorra and Cerdanya come from Mercantour, situated in the Southern Alps; while the Ripollès population comes from Vanoise, in the northern Alps. As the populations in the Pyrenees have not exchanged genetic material, each one is still closely related to their native population from the Alps.

Despite a lack of planning, a lack of monitoring and the low genetic diversity of the studied populations, the reintroduction of the alpine marmot has been a success in the Pyrenees. Nevertheless, we should take this success as an exception. It is worth highlighting the need for choosing an adequate number of individuals to reintroduce and for choosing genetically diverse individuals to increase the number of successful reintroductions. Currently few cases have included genetic diversity as a key for the selection of reintroduced specimens. One last issue to be resolved is whether Alpine marmots will be able to adapt to the new environment generated by climate change with this low genetic diversity.


Overall, the conservation status of the Alpine marmot in Spain is still a cause for concern, but efforts are being made to protect and conserve this iconic species.

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