Yellow-bellied marmot on a rockThere is a lot to see and do in Colorado’s high country and for that I am eternally grateful. One of my all-time personal favorites is a hike to an alpine lake in the summertime. On those lucky days, I keep my eyes out for marmots at higher elevations. They can often be found sunning themselves atop a rock, “chirping” at the entrance to their burrow (as a warning to others), or feeding. There’s something completely endearing about them and I’m always happy to see one, especially because they spend more than half their lives hibernating.

Yes, more than half their lives – about 200 days! They spend the warmer months, roughly April/May to September/October, mating, raising pups, and fattening up again on grass, flowers, insects, and even bird eggs. Once the days shorten and the air chills, they go into their burrows. These social creatures live in colonies of 10-20 individuals and spend the coldest months huddled together in rooms insulated with hay. All the feeding they did before hibernating provides them with fat stores that they use as energy. But most interesting of all is that their body temperature drops to as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit and their heart rate slows to only 30 beats per minute (whereas their active heart rate is 180-200 beats per minute).

Sometimes I wish I could sleep away the winter like that!