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Updates from the Team

Vancouver Island marmots are on the move

Last week we received this season’s first report of a dispersing marmot. Two forestry workers photographed a marmot on a gravel road in the Nanaimo Lakes region. “Dispersal” is a natural process that happens when a marmot leaves the colony that they were born at, and travels through the landscape to join another colony and start a family. For Vancouver Island marmots, this usually happens at or after age two, when marmots are fully grown and independent but have not yet bred at a site.

From the photos, we could tell that this marmot was known to us because it had two shiny, metal ear tags with numbers on them. We couldn’t quite read the numbers from the photos, but that gave us a great start at figuring out who it might be. We knew that if the marmot had ear tags, it likely also had a working radiotelemetry transmitter. Transmitters send out pulses, and by using a special antenna and receiver and walking in the direction with the loudest pulse, we can track a marmot to a specific location – kind of like a game of “hot or cold”, but with beeps!

We solved the mystery when we confirmed that it was a 2yo wild-born male named Precip. By the time we found him, he had finished his journey and was hiding in a nice, meadowy slide on another marmot mountain. He had traveled 10km from his natal (birth) colony to where he was photographed, and another 5km after that! We wish him all the best at his new colony.

Vancouver Island is a BIG place, so we appreciate your help monitoring this rare and fascinating species. If you see a marmot near a town or road, or if you find a deceased marmot, please let us know!

(Photo credit: J. Araki)

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Vancouver Island marmots on ShawTV

It may have been snowing sideways, but ShawTV’s Kelly Robinson and Derek Johnstone were all smiles as they trekked along with us on our first field day in early May. It was an exciting day for everyone – we saw happy marmots, checked burrows, and confirmed overwinter survival for several individuals. We also had a surprise when we discovered that a notorious wandering female who had left the hill last summer had returned to hibernate with a friend. To watch our field crew in action and see some of Mount Washington’s resident marmots, follow the link to Vancouver Island Marmots – ShawTV Nanaimo.

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Remember Snow?

Each spring, field crew visit Vancouver Island marmot colonies to determine which marmots survived the winter. As part of this task, they also scour the mountain tops to locate the special burrows that marmots hibernate in (called a “hibernaculum”). Usually, this is a fairly easy task. You see, marmots hibernate underground, and so their feet, nose and tummy get covered in soil. In spring, when marmots leave their hibernacula and dig up through several feet of snow to the surface, marmots create a dirty-looking tunnel in the snow that we call an “emergence hole”.

But there’s something missing this spring that we usually see in other years, particularly in the Nanaimo Lakes region. We’ll give you a hint it’s fluffy, white, and a great insulator for hibernating marmots…that’s right, we’re talking about snow! This past winter, there was very little snow at the Nanaimo Lakes marmot colonies. This means that these marmots didn’t even have to dig emergence holes this spring – they just stepped out of their burrows! So in order to show you what an emergence hole looks like, we took a photo at one of the fledgling colonies in Strathcona Provincial Park, where marmots woke up this spring with at least a little bit of snow to dig through.

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Hide and Seek

Our field season kicked off on May 1st, and in their very first week on the project, field crew already discovered something new and exciting – there was an extra litter of marmot pups on Mt. Washington last year! Vancouver Island marmot pups are rarely seen above ground before early July. By this time, the vegetation around their burrow has grown really tall. Pups are excellent at hiding, and so it can be a challenge to see them when they don’t want to be seen. This litter could have won any game of Hide and Seek!

Vancouver Island marmot pups are born in early June, and so these four pups haven’t quite reached their first birthday. But they have survived their first summer and their first hibernation, which is a really good sign. Keep up the great work, pups!

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Meet This Year’s Field Crew

The Vancouver Island marmot field crew is back and better than ever!

This year’s field crew will be guided by crew leader Mike Lester and
returning crew members Shawn Lukas and Patrick Reid. Over time, we’ve found that the most important qualities for field crew are enthusiasm, tenacity, and a curiosity to learn more. You’ll be happy to know that these three have this in spades!

We are also excited to welcome new crew members to our project. Andrew Horsfield, Hannah Hall, Zachary Palmer, and Trevor Dickinson are the fantastic new talent we brought in to help us achieve our recovery goals this summer. With such a keen group of marmoteers, we know that the Vancouver Island marmot is in good hands this summer!

Check in again for our wild updates.

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Some of the great research being done to find ways to help the Vancouver Island Marmot recover! ... See MoreSee Less

So we did our collections on the woodchucks today, using them as a model for the Vancouver Island marmots to try a new protocol I developed in improving sperm collection (no jokes necessary;). If the ...

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If you are in the Cowichan area, and want to learn more about the Vancouver Island Marmot and efforts to recover this unique species, the Cowichan Valley Naturalists are hosting a talk in Duncan on Tuesday. Join us!

What: Groundhog Day: Marmot Recovery and Prognostication
Who: Sally Leigh-Spencer, Biologist, Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Team member, and Recovery Strategy co-author, and the Adam Taylor, Marmot Recovery Foundation Executive Director.
Where: Freshwater Eco-Centre, 1080 Wharncliffe Rd, Duncan
When: Tuesday, April 18th, 7:30pm
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