The Siberian marmot is a large rodent with a very large body, relatively small head, and short limbs. The head and body is dark brown, with a lighter belly. They may be up to 60cm long, and weight up to 8kg.
Marmots are found in open grassland areas of all types of steppe (mountain steppe, forest steppe, steppe) in western, central, and eastern Mongolia. Family groups consisting of a dominant pair and offspring of different ages live in a burrow, where they hibernate between October and March/April. They feed on various grasses, sedges and herbs.
Mating occurs 1-2 weeks after the spring emergence, and young are born 30-35 days later. Each year a pair may produce between 5 and 7 young. Sexual maturity is reached in the second or third year. In the wild, marmots may live up to 10 years.
Marmots can spread pneumonic plague, sometimes to humans.
Typical marmot signs include burrows with mounds of excavated earth and stones, and openings 30-40cm in diameter. Tracks and scat may be seen around burrow entrances. Droppings are normally cylindrical, about 5cm in length, and contain grass.
WCS Mongolia’s Wildlife Trade Project has recorded numerous instances of Marmot trade in the markets in and around Ulaanbaatar. Every year, Marmots are one of the species most observed. For more information, see the page on wildlife trade.
In additional to natural predators, the main threat to marmots is hunting by humans. In Mongolia, marmots are considered a delicacy, and are the key ingredient of a number of national dishes. As such, marmots are hunted enthusiastically in the late summer, when they are plump in preparation for the winter hibernation. Populations have suffered to the extent that the Mongolian government passed a law making the hunting of marmots illegal. In such a large country with the lowest human population density in the world, however, enforcing such laws is very difficult.