Yellow-bellied Marmot – A Real Ham For The Camera

Usually when I have a marmot in my viewfinder it just turns into a staring match without many interesting poses from the rodent. But this guy was a show off.

I don’t know its sex but for the sake of convenience I’ll refer to it as a male. All images are presented in the order they were taken (with two different cameras so the file numbers aren’t sequential). Sorry, I didn’t have time to provide image techs this morning. 


The first time we found him yesterday morning he was in some rocks along the road but he was so shy I just took a few images and then went on my way.



But 53 minutes later he was almost immediately accepting of the presence of my pickup so he began to groom himself. With gusto.



I don’t know what he was doing or looking for “down there” but whatever it was…



it must have been nasty.



For a chunky little guy he could sure wrap his body into some weird contortions.



He did a lot of scratching – this time under his front left armpit. I didn’t have enough shutter speed to get the scratchin’ foot sharp but you get the idea.



His next itch was just above his left shoulder. His scratching technique reminded me of one of my favorite dogs in the past who was a champion scratcher.



Soon he left the safety of the rocks to feed on some of the nearby vegetation. He only stood erect a few times and each time I seemed to be at the wrong focal length to photograph it without cutting off body parts. This image was shot vertically and is almost full frame so the tip of his tail is lost forever.



His feeding technique was interesting. Several times he turned his head sideways in an apparent attempt to pluck the grasses off at their roots. If that’s why he did it I have no idea why it was necessary.



But other times he fed on the ends of very tall grasses.



With all of the spring rains we’ve had he had lots of greenery to choose from and it was interesting to watch how he used his paws to manipulate his food.



It was somewhat difficult to catch him out in the open except when he moved from one green clump to another. He fed for quite a while and then eventually he…



returned to the rocks to bask in the sun and perhaps to nap. He appeared to be so tired that at one point he…



gave me a cavernous yawn that showed off those immense rodent teeth which inevitably reminded me of a Saber-toothed Tiger. Soon after this shot was taken I drove on down the road and let him snooze in peace.

At one point I wondered aloud if Golden Eagles occasionally prey on these large rodents (a little research after I got home confirmed that they do). It seems like even eagles would have to take great care to avoid fearsome injuries from those teeth. For much of the time I was with the marmot there was a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a pole quite close behind me. Both rodent and predatory bird had to be aware of each other’s presence but neither showed any interest in the other.

I’m betting those teeth had something to do with that.




47 comments to Yellow-bellied Marmot – A Real Ham For The Camera

  • Linda Civey

    Nice informative posting! Thanks, Linda

  • Chris Sanborn

    I am STILL laughing about some of these images even after spending time scrolling through all the comments … #4 & 14 are LOL funny! That last one, he almost looks like he’s expecting someone to shovel in some more food! I used to see lots of marmots up on Ricky hillsides while riding my bike on Vail Pass in Colorado years ago–they would call to each other whenever cyclists appeared at one particular rest stop. I always thought they were welcoming us and their appearance made the ride up so worthwhile. (The ride down didn’t hurt, either…) Little did I know they have ginormous teeth–yikes! Thanks for a fun mammal series, Ron.

  • How nice to find a co-operative marmot.
    Sigh on discovering yet another animal to remind me I am as supple as a brick. So many other species cause me to have serious inadequacy attacks. In my next life I want to be something else. I badly want to be something else.
    Those teeth are particularly impressive for a vegetarian. You obviously grown some fearsome grasses…

  • Joanne OBrien

    Great Group of pics of a wonderful critter. I hope to meet one someday!

  • Great series and comments Ron. As I commented on Mia’s blog, I was excited this morning by a pair of Mallard 🦆 ducks.
    The female and the male were close by on the patio, then walked around to check out the backyard, then flew off. Beautiful.

  • We saw some marmots on our road trip from Minnesota to the Pacific Northwest last summer and I had no idea their teeth were that big. Good for them!

  • Ron: Great series of images and accompanying text, as always. As I began looking at the pictures, I wondered if this might be a younger marmot–one born last year. I say that because I photographed one in Colorado during early spring a number of years ago that looked and acted more mature and had longer, silvery hair. This is not a species I’m very familiar with, so perhaps my guess is wrong. So far, my vote (on age) is in the minority. Would an older, smarter individual lay around so nonchalantly in the presence of a raptor that’s known to prey on marmots? Unfortunately, we’re traveling so I don’t have access to my image to share and compare with yours. And, I don’t recall whether it had lots of grey around its muzzle.

    • Ron, I’m certainly no authority on marmots either so I’m really unsure of its age.

      And I’m not sure it can be said with authority that Red-tailed Hawks are raptors that are “known to prey on marmots”. I just checked BNA Online and though they list dozens of different prey species for red-tails, marmots aren’t among them. Perhaps they’re just a little too large for them to handle (at least as adults) and those teeth would certainly be a formidable deterrent.

  • Peggy Wyman

    When I was a teenager my brother brought home an orphaned yellow-bellied marmot we named Woody. We raised him and he became a wonderful pet. He would wrestle with our cat until the marmot grew to be much heavier than the cat, then the cat would avoid him. Woody loved to come into the house where he received lots of attention and sweet treats when he begged on two feet. He shredded the underside of our sofa, and the screen door when we tried to keep him outside. He was with us all summer and into the fall, when alas, he got into an old potato cellar where my dad had some excess treated wheat stored (it was treated so insects wouldn’t eat the wheat when it was planted) and poor Woody passed away. We were all very sad to lose him.

  • Sarah Hamilton

    I have never seen a Marmot, but this one sure is a cutie. Course I think all critters are cuties. Thanks Ron.

  • Marty K

    Delightful series and descriptions! He was probably grooming to look good for his close ups, Mr. DeMille. 😉

  • Alice Beckcom

    What an interesting series of shots. I’ve never seen a marmot, so all of this was a real education for me. Those teeth are something to fear!! Thanks.

  • Elmer Deloso

    That last shot surely woke me up! Thanks for this share. Very educational write up as always!

  • Patty Chadwick

    I had thd same reaction as you and others…this looks like grizzled senior citizen. You and Mia got some great series of this guy…if he is as elderly as I think he may be, I wonder how old he is and how many more years he may have left (I still like to sprawl out on warm rocks, too…just have trouble getting up!)…

  • George Hollis

    My guess is that he is a ‘silverback.’ His relatives around here (Maryland groundhogs) aren’t so grey around the muzzle.

  • Sibylle Kinley

    I admire all of your work! Not only do you capture character in your photographs but your writing always gets the mind going. Thank you for this site. I look forward to it on a daily basis.

  • Dick Harlow

    What great shots of the Marmot. Man, that Marmot had to be very comfortable with you and your truck, we’ll be calling you Ron (St. Francis) Dudley!f
    Picture 3 and 4 are exact replicas of what our cat looks like when it goes down there!! Yup, Nasty!
    I wonder whether Goldens would tend to go after young Marmots rather than risk a bite from an adult?

    • Ha, putting “saint” in front of my name seems so preposterous that your comment brought a huge smile, Dick.

      I’m thinking that maybe Golden’s “learn” on the young ones and then graduate to the big game adults after gaining some experience.

  • Some years ago, I saw a Golden Eagle take a Hoary Marmot, a larger cousin of the Yellow-bellied, in Denali National Park. The eagle grabbed the marmot behind the neck and in the middle of the back, and then bit through the neck. The Hoary never had a chance to get his teeth in play. The Hoary was big enough that the Golden really struggled to carry it off. No photos; I was backpacking up the West Fork of the Toklat.

  • Robert (RJ) Davis

    I follow every day, and although I do not always comment, I am always impressed by your posts. I love the intimacy of your recent series with the Red-Tailed Hawks and today with the Yellow-Bellied Marmot.

  • Those are some HUGE teeth

  • So fun. And the commentary was fabulous.

  • Judy Gusick

    What a great series, Ron. The little guy sure did cooperated with multiple poses! 🙂 It almost looks like a bare spot on the shoulder her was scratching – #7 I believe – Those rodent teeth certainly remind one it may be cute BUT! 🙂

    • Judy, rodent’s as small as hamsters and mice have caused me to shed significant amounts of blood when they’ve bitten me in the past so I can only imagine what this much larger rodent could do with those teeth when it felt threatened.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Super series Ron!