Animal of the Week: What is a Whistle Pig?

If you live anywhere in the West, you’ve probably seen these  lumbering rodents that look like they’re sporting a beer gut and you may also have heard them.  Due to their loud chirping sound and robust belly, they’re known as whistle pigs, or marmots.

Last summer, we were hiking up at Alta and heard this amazing chep Chep CHEP sound.  Mark immediately knew it was a yellow bellied marmot and could spot it about a 500 yards away.  We started talking to it and it talked back.  It was up on it’s hind legs and just kept chepping away with us.  We must have had a ‘conversation’ with the marmot for a solid 10 minutes.  Even our daughter who was 1 1/2 at the time and very quiet started saying “chep, chep!”.  We have a video of this which I will post when I can find it.

Interesting marmot facts:

  • Marmots are found in mountainous areas in the West, the Alps, Pakistan, India and northwestern Asia
  • Marmots are vegetarians and are considered large ground squirrels
  • As of last year, Alaska celebrates February 2 as “Marmot Day”, a holiday intended to take the place of Groundhog Day and observe the abundance of marmots in that state.
  • Marmots have been eaten for centuries as part of the cuisine of Mongolia where they hunt for them during the season the marmots are particularly fat (that seems every season to me!)
  • When marmots hibernate, they don’t keep their body temperature down all winter, but instead wake up every week or so(probably to get a snack!) and then go back to sleep
  • Due to their loud chirping sound, the yellow bellied marmots are nicknamed Whistle Pigs
  • People who study marmots or woodchucks are called marmoteers
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