The Yellow-Bellied Marmot (often referred to as a Rock Chuck) is somewhat similar to the more famous Woodchuck or Groundhog. However, the Yellow-Bellied Marmot may be easily distinguished from the Woodchuck by his habitat, his yellow chest & white facial markings, as well as his social lifestyle as he often dwells in colonies of several dozen members. You will be much more likely to see a Yellow-Bellied Marmot at Bryce Canyon than Zion National Park, due to the fact that they prefer higher elevations of at least 6,500 feet. Here at Rising K Ranch, is very rare that I see a Marmot on our shorter horseback rides; but whenever I ride up the mountain into the coniferous forests or even go above treeline, I see them much more often. They survive these higher elevations because they hibernate for about 8 months, active only from May- August.
The Yellow-Bellied Marmot is a stout little creature, often weighing around ten pounds. Their lifestyle is rather similar to that of the Utah Prairie Dog, as they form colonies, live in their own burrows, and keep guards over the colony to whistle whenever danger is near. They usually begin to reproduce at two years old, giving birth to litters consisting of 3-5 individuals. The vast majority of a Marmot’s life is spent inside his burrow. Not only does he hibernate there for up to 8 months, but he also spends most of his summer nights and afternoons inside his burrow. The Yellow-Bellied Marmot is like many wealthy retired Americans, having both a summer home and a winter home. His winter burrow used for hibernation may be up to 23 feet deep in order to avoid possible predators as well as to stay below the frost line. His summer burow is usually about 3 feet deep and is plenty adequate for shade on a warm summer day and for protection against eagles. Unlike the Prairie Dog, the Marmot rarely builds his colony on level ground. They instead make use of cliffs and steep hillsides or mountainsides. Although the Marmot may at times eat bird eggs or insects, the larger part of his diet is made up of several types of grasses, leaves and flowers, especially dandelions. The Yellow-Bellied Marmot may sometimes live to be as old as fifteen years.