As is the case most years, a crowd of people gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania yesterday to watch a rodent come out of his den. As lore has it, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, and if not, we will have an early spring.
Those of us who live in the mountains of Colorado know this is all a bunch of bunk anyway. No Coloradan in his right mind would believe that winter was over as of February. In fact, a quick peek back at our snow records from the last several years show that winter is just getting started as of February.
The bulk of our snow received at our home in Nederland usually falls in February, March and April. In fact, the last three years, we have received sizeable snowstorms in May.
But if you want to depend on a rodent to know the answers, that too, would be very definitive to show that winter has a long way to go.
While we have no groundhogs here in Colorado, they are closely related (think cousins) to the marmot. The most common one seen here in the Rocky Mountains is the yellow bellied marmot. But he only lives at very high elevations, usually above timberline. They like areas of boulders and tundra, sunning themselves on the rocks throughout the summer, while nibbling on the small green plants that grow there.
But the tundra has a very short growing season of 60-70 days, so the marmots go into hibernation as of October and don’t pop out again until May. On February 2, they are fast asleep in their torpid state, saving their energy until summer comes. If I saw a marmot out and about on February 2, I’d know my worst nightmares about climate change had come true.
If you really want to know about the marmots, look no further than Crested Butte, Colorado. By chance coincidence, we had rented the infamous “Groundhog’s Day” movie, and were looking at the bonus segments. The clip featured the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for its research on marmots and how closely related they are to groundhogs. There was even funny clips about how difficult it was to film Bill Murray with the marmot (not groundhog) in his lap during the movie, because they are wild animals.
The Center features interesting trivia and information about our resident rodent here, including a recent study showing that more social marmots live shorter lives. So I guess in the land of marmots, it pays to be a loner!
RMBL offers tours, summer camps for kids and other programs. So if you want to know more about the marmot, its habitat, or other wildlife that make the Rocky Mountains their home, check out their website.