Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana)

Also known as: Karakoram Marmot
Spanish: Marmota Del Himalaya
GenusMarmota (1)
SizeHead-body length: 47.5 - 67 cm (2) (3)
Tail length: 12.5 - 15 cm (2) (3)
Average weight: 4 - 9.2 kg (2) (3)
Top facts

The Himalayan marmot is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of the largest species of marmot in the world (4), the Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana) is, like other species within its genus, stoutly built with short legs (5) and a small, stubby tail (3) (6). As with all marmot species, the hind limbs are longer than the front limbs and each foot has four clawed toes as well as a poorly developed thumb with a flat nail (7).

Dense, thick fur is characteristic of all marmots (5), and in the Himalayan marmot it is a grass-yellow, cream or buff colour on the upper surface, and is marked with irregular black or charcoal-coloured spots (2) (3). The underside of this species is buff to tan or light brown, whereas the snout is usually dark brown or black, with this colouration sometimes extending up to the forehead (2) (3). The ears are dark yellow or reddish-brown (3) and the tail is two-toned, being buff or light brown at the base, giving way to a charcoal or black tip (2).

The alarm call of the Himalayan marmot is made up of a series of quickly uttered sounds and lasts less than one second. Its call can be distinguished from that of other marmot species by the short interval between the first, low frequency sound, and the second, higher frequency sound in each series (8).

The range of the Himalayan marmot spans from the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Pakistan, to western, central and southern China (1) (3) (9), predominantly in the provinces of Tibet and Qinghai (10).

The Himalayan marmot lives in dry alpine meadows that experience little rainfall (1) (3) (4) (10), where it can be found on steep bush-dotted slopes (3) with soil that it can burrow into easily (1). As with other marmot species, livestock grazing pastures provide an ideal habitat for the Himalayan marmot due to the prevalence of shoots, its major food source (11).

This species differs from other marmots in that it is never found below elevations of 3,000 metres (11)and is found at sites up to approximately 5,200 metres above sea level (1) (11), with some records of occurrence up to 5,500 metres (11). The high-elevation alpine ‘belts’ that make up the Himalayan marmot’s habitat tend to lie between the upper limits of trees and the lower limits of the snow line (11).

The Himalayan marmot lives in extended family units which may join together to form colonies (11) (12), the size of which depends on the resources available (1) (3). In some cases, a colony can contain up to 30 families (11).

Marmots live primarily on a diet of herbaceous plants and grasses (3) (5) (9), and the Himalayan marmot is no exception, eating the soft, juicy developing shoots (11). However, this speciesmay also eat fruit or grain from time to time if they are available (9), as well as roots and the leaves of herbaceous plants (3).

The Himalayan marmot, like all other marmots, is active during the day (13), generally retreating into its burrows when the surface temperature rises or falls outside of the 8 to 12 degrees Celsius range (11). Over the winter months, from late September until the following April, the Himalayan marmot hibernates (14). The hibernation burrows of the Himalayan marmot are especially deep (1) (3), in some cases potentially over ten metres deep (11), and are shared with other colony members (1) (3).

Species within the Marmota genus generally have a single mating season, which begins soon after the animals have emerged from hibernation (9). However, in the Himalayan marmot, females are reported to give birth toward the end of hibernation, after a one-month gestation period, with young being born from April to July (3). The young are thought to be born in a grass-lined nest (7) (9), and litters usually consists of between 2 and 11 young (1) (3). The young, born helpless and without fur, teeth or sight, remain in the burrow for six weeks until they have grown a full fur coat and are strong enough to venture into the outside world (7). As in other marmot species, young Himalayan marmots then tend to remain with the family, and females do not become reproductively active until their second spring (1) (3) (9).

When alerted to danger, marmots sit upright on their hind legs in order to get a better view of their surroundings (5).

While the global population of the Himalayan marmot is not experiencing any significant threats, some local populations are being affected by human activities such as overgrazing, habitat disturbance due to civil unrest, and hunting for food and medicinal purposes (1).

Although there are no specific plans regarding the conservation of the Himalayan marmot, it is present in several protected areas, including the Annapurna National Park (1), Nepal’s largest protected area and first Conservation Area (15). In addition, in India the Himalayan marmot is listed on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (1) (16), which prevents it being traded to an extent that would negatively affect its survival (16).

Find out more about the Himalayan marmot:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
  2. Thorington Jr, R.W., Koprowski, J.L., Steele, M.A. and Whatton, J.F. (2012) Squirrels of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  3. Smith, A.T., Xie, Y., Hoffmann, R.S., MacKinnon, J., Wilson, D.E. and Wozencraft, W.C. (Eds.) (2010) A Guide to the Mammals of China. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  4. Cardini, A. (2003) The geometry of the marmot (Rodentia: Sciuridae) mandible: Phylogeny and patterns of morphological evolution. Systematic Biology, 52: 186-205.
  5. Matthews, L.H. (1971) The Life of Mammals. Volume 2. Weinfield and Nicolson, London.
  6. Gould, E. and Mackay, G. (1990) Encyclopedia of Mammals. Academic Press, Massachusetts.
  7. Macdonald, D. (1984)The Encyclopaedia of Mammals. Volume 2. George Allen and Unwin, London.
  8. Nikol’skii, A. and Formozov, N. (2005) The alarm call of Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana, Rodentia, Sciuridae). Zoologichesky Zhurnal, 84: 1497-1507.
  9. Nowak, R. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. Volume 1. 5th Edition. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.  
  10.  Xu, J., Wang, L., Xue, H., Wang, Y. and Xu, L. (2009) Genetic structure of Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayana) population alongside the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 29: 314-319.
  11. Nikol’skii, A. and Ulak, A. (2006) Key factors determining the ecological niche of the Himalyan marmot, Marmota himalayana Hodgson (1841). Russian Journal of Ecology, 37: 46-52.
  12. Macdonald, D. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  13. Armitage, K. (2009) Fur color diversity in marmots. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 21: 183-194.
  14. Su, J. and Liu, J. (2000) Overwinter of small herbivorous mammals inhabiting Alpine area. Acta Theriologica Sinica, 20: 186-192.
  15. National Trust for Nature Conservation - Projects (November, 2012)
  16. CITES (July, 2013)