Groundhogs (or marmots)

Marmots (or marmots) are relatively large, weighing several kilograms, animals that live in self-constructed burrows. These rodents are distributed in Eurasia and North America.

The ancestral home of marmots is North America, from where they spread through the Bering Strait to Asia, and further to Europe.

Different types of marmots have isolated themselves in different geographical zones and differ from each other in their behavior, but retained their external similarity and the need to hibernate.

All groundhogs are herbivorous, live in burrows, have warm fur, and almost all live in colonies. There is a difference between flatland marmots (baybaks) and mountain marmots living in the harsh conditions of the Alpine mountains, where summer heat comes late and winter comes early.

Marmots are the heaviest representatives of the squirrel family, depending on the species, they weigh from 3 to 7 kilograms. These are large rodents with characteristic short but strong legs, enlarged claws well adapted for digging, a thick body and large heads. The length of the head and body, depending on the species, is from 30 to 60 cm, the length of the tail is from 10 to 25 cm.

In total there are 15 types of marmots, some of them are divided into subspecies. We will now show a photo of the most common types of marmots (the name and habitat of the species are below the picture).

Gray, or Altai, or Mountain Asian marmot

Gray, or Altai, or Mountain Asian marmot: common in Asia (in the mountains of the Tien Shan, Altai) |

Baibak, or babak, or common (steppe) marmot

Baibak, or babak, or common (steppe) marmot – an inhabitant of the virgin steppes of Eurasia |

gray marmot

Gray Groundhog: Native to North America (Canada, USA) |

Black-capped, or Kamchatka, or Eastern marmot

Black-capped, or Kamchatka, or Eastern marmot: lives in Eastern and North-Western Siberia |

yellow-bellied marmot

Yellow-bellied marmot: distributed in the western United States and Canada |

Himalayan or Tibetan marmot

Himalayan or Tibetan marmot: found in the Himalayan region of India and Pakistan |

alpine marmot

Alpine marmot: distributed in the highlands of Central and Southern Europe, especially in the Alps |


The woodchuck is the most widespread species of American marmot. Widely distributed in the northeastern and central states of the United States |

Tarbagan, or Mongolian (Siberian) marmot

Tarbagan, or Mongolian (Siberian) marmot: lives in Russia (in the steppes of Transbaikalia and Tuva), Mongolia (excluding the south), Northeast China |

Olympic marmot, or Olympic marmot

The Olympic marmot, or Olympic marmot, is an inhabitant of the Olympic Mountains (Olympic Mountains), located on the peninsula of the same name in the west of Washington state in the USA |

Vancouver Groundhog

Vancouver Groundhog: Only found on Vancouver Island in Canada, found mostly in the south of the island |

Marmots are good-natured little bellies about the size of a cat. In case of danger, they squeak loudly. However, this is where their charm ends. These animals can be dangerous to humans.


Are groundhogs harmless?

Not at all, because they kill people – cough them up to death. How so? Read on.

The fact is that the variety living in Mongolia – the steppe (or ordinary) marmot – is especially susceptible to an infectious lung disease caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and better known as bubonic plague.

Groundhogs spread the plague by coughing on neighbors – infecting fleas, rats, and eventually humans. All the great epidemics that swept through East Asia and mowed down Europe came from the steppe Mongolian marmots. Historians estimate that the death toll from the plague has exceeded one billion, placing the groundhog second only to the malarial mosquito on the list of mankind's greatest killers.

When a woodchuck or a human becomes a victim of the plague, the lymph nodes under their arms and in the groin blacken and swell (such ulcers are called "buboes", from the Greek boubon, "groin", hence the word "bubonic"). The Mongol will never touch the groundhog's armpits, because "the soul of a dead hunter hides there."

The remaining parts of the marmot are considered a delicacy in Mongolia. Local hunters perform whole rituals before sneaking up on their prey: they put on fake rabbit ears, dance and wave their yak tail. The caught marmot is roasted whole over hot stones.

The bubonic plague pandemic has been around for a very long time, of course, but this disease has not left us to this day – the last serious outbreak occurred in India in 1994. Plague is one of three diseases on the U.S. list of diseases requiring mandatory quarantine (the other two are yellow fever and cholera).



In our area, the common (steppe) marmot or marmot is widespread. It is farmed for the sake of warm and light fur. Its meat is edible, and its fat has been used in technology and folk medicine (for example, as a healing ointment for rheumatism).

For agriculture, the bobak is practically harmless – it rarely touches cultivated plants; occasionally eats alfalfa and sunflower. In gardens bred in marmot colonies, they sometimes eat cabbage and aerial parts of carrots.

Baibak is a popular object of special hunting – varminting, in which shooting is carried out from a long distance from a special weapon. American marmots are also a popular target for varminting.

For varminting, rifled weapons of special types are used, with a weighted barrel, equipped with powerful optics of ten times or more magnification. The shot is fired at the maximum distance from the target, which must be relatively stationary.

The groundhog's manner of standing for hours like a "candle" at the hole, surveying the surroundings, makes it possible to make an aimed shot, but only at the maximum distance: the groundhog is shy and, in case of alarm, very quickly hides in the hole. Moreover, the animal is extremely strong on the wound, that is, if it is damaged in any part of the body, except for the head (no larger than a cognac glass), it manages to hide. And although the wounded animals often manage to go into the hole, they die there.

Young bobak

Young bobak |

Adult bobak

Adult bobak |

Baybaki near the village of Gerasimovka (Lugansk region, Ukraine)

Marmots near the village of Gerasimovka (Lugansk region, Ukraine), early summer 2009 |


Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a traditional holiday in the United States and Canada, celebrated annually on February 2nd. It is believed that on this day you need to watch the marmot crawling out of its hole. By his behavior, one can judge the proximity of the onset of spring.

According to legend, if the day is cloudy, the groundhog does not see his shadow and calmly leaves the hole, which means that winter will end soon and spring will be early. If the day is sunny, the groundhog sees his shadow and, frightened by it, hides back into the hole – there will be another six weeks of winter.

In several cities and towns in the United States and Canada, festivals dedicated to local meteorological marmots are held on this day, which attract many tourists.

In the USA and Canada, the most famous 7 meteorological marmots are:

  1. Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog that lives on Turkey Hill in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This is the very first official groundhog meteorologist – since 1987, it was here that a festival began to be held, during which the “keepers” dressed in tuxedos ask Phil a question: does he see his shadow? If the groundhog whispers yes, then the winter will last another six weeks. According to American climatologists, the accuracy of Phil's predictions is 39%. At the same time, his fans and some holiday researchers claim an accuracy of 75% to 90%.
  2. Wiarton Willie is the most famous Canadian groundhog meteorologist from the village of Wiarton in Ontario, in whose honor an annual festival is held.
  3. Staten Island Chuck. Chuck is the official groundhog meteorologist for New York City. He lives in a zoo on Staten Island. Every year on February 2 at 7:30 he gives his forecast. The mayor of the city is present at this ceremony.
  4. Shubenacadsky Sam (Shubenacadie Sam). Due to Nova Scotia's Atlantic time zone, this groundhog makes the first Groundhog Day prediction in North America.
  5. Balzac Billy.
  6. Groundhog Jimmy (Jimmy the Groundhog).
  7. General Beauregard Lee.

Groundhog Day, 2005

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney 2005 |

Groundhog Day, 2008

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney 2013 |

Groundhog Day, 2013

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney 2018 |

Groundhog Day, 2020

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney 2020 |


Other interesting facts

  • The American town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania became world famous after the release of the 1993 comedy film Groundhog Day. And this is not surprising – the film was successful at the box office all over the world, collecting about $71 million in the US and Canada alone. The comedy Groundhog Day won the BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay and was subsequently included in the US National Film Registry.
  • In the cities of Angarsk (Irkutsk region, Russia), Aznakaevo (Republic of Tatarstan, Russia) and Karaganda (Kazakhstan), monuments to the marmot have been erected.
  • Baibak is one of the symbols of the Lugansk region of Ukraine, it is depicted on its coat of arms. It is also depicted on the coat of arms and flag of the Bizhbulyaksky district of the Republic of Bashkortostan (Russia).
  • Groundhog is remembered on the feast of St. Eudoxia (March 14). On this day, the groundhog woke up, whistled three times, turned over on the other side and slept until the Annunciation.
  • Groundhogs greet the sunrise with a whistle.
  • Groundhogs sometimes snore.


How the groundhog screams


Marmots of the Olympic National Park (National Geographic)

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