Sunday, April 25, 2010

Groundhog Day

Greg, also from Not Extinct Yet, suggested that I write about the Blobfish. I really wanted to write about the Blobfish. If there’s any animal that could use a space on this blog, it’s the Blobfish. There’s really not enough information out there about it to get a full post out, though. My fiancĂ©e has been (strongly) suggesting a different animal since the Olympics in February. It’s somewhat cute, but in the end, it’s just a big Groundhog.

Image from Simply Wild Canada
Image from Simply Wild Canada
The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis —that’s a Road Runner & Coyote scientific name if I ever heard one) has been cut off from the rest of the mainland Marmots since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Like many rodents, these Marmots hibernate during the winter. Unlike most rodents, that hibernation lasts eight months. Even during those brief summer months, they spend most of their time in the burrows, coming out only to feed, lounge on rocks, and goof off.

Being a rodent of smallish stature (the standardized size comparison seems to be "a large house cat") predation is a fact of life for the Vancouver Island Marmot. Cougars, Wolves, and Golden Eagles all find the Marmot to be a tasty treat—no wonder it spends most of its life underground. Also being rodents, they have a high reproduction rate, where babies made in May are out of the burrow by July. A single female can produce about 15 young in her life.

This high reproduction rate may save the species. Man-made habitat changes decreased their naturally low population numbers almost to the point of genetic collapse. It was estimated that there were 21 wild Marmots in 2003, the rest (75 or so) in breeding programs in zoos and conservation centres. That breeding program has been remarkably successful, as they have released a total of 223 Marmots since then. Yes, some of them have fallen victim to predation and other natural deaths, but the wild population is up to about 120 now, and the captive population is steadily growing.