WA State Animal?

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The Olympic woodchuck is Washington state’s animal, a marmot from the squirrel family. The Olympic marmot is unique to the alpine region of Washington’s Olympic Mountains and is protected by state law. Marmots are herbaceous mammals that live in colonies and hibernate for eight months. The Olympic marmot population has been declining, and hunting is prohibited by law.

Washington’s state animal is the Olympic woodchuck. A marmot is a burrowing animal from the order of rodents in the squirrel family. The creature, sometimes referred to as a “giant squirrel,” resembles a squirrel with its pert nose set against a narrow face with bright, dark round eyes. The marmot’s body is rounded, covered with thick tan or silvery-gray fur, covered with a thick reddish-brown tail. Indigenous to Washington state, the Olympic marmot is part of a family of 14 other marmot species throughout North America, Europe, and the Siberian region of Russia, including woodchuck, woodchuck, woodchuck, whistler, and hoary woodchuck.

The groundhog was chosen as Washington’s state animal — or, more accurately, the state’s endemic, or unique land mammal — on May 12, 2009. The legislation was the collaborative effort of students at Wedgwood Elementary School in Seattle, Washington ; Burke Mammals Curator Jim Kenagy and Washington Senator Ken Jacobsen. Washington state recognizes two state mammals: the orca, or killer whale, as a marine mammal and the marmot as Washington’s state animal.

The Olympic marmot is unique to the alpine region of Washington’s Olympic Mountains. Fewer than 2,000 Olympic marmots live in Olympic National Park, where the animals are protected by state law. Two other species of marmots inhabit Washington, the hoary marmot and the yellow-bellied marmot, but these species are also found outside Washington and are therefore not endemic.

Marmots are herbaceous mammals, which feed voraciously on grasses, mosses, berries, lichens and flowers throughout the summer season. They make elaborate and complex burrows in the ground or create grass-lined nests inside rock piles, always creating an entry point and an exit point for their home. The marmot is a social animal that lives in colonies, with the typical marmot family unit usually consisting of one male, several females and their offspring. A marmot lookout is appointed to watch for predators; when one is spotted, the lookout hoots or yells loudly to its colony to warn of danger. The marmot’s lifespan is generally about six years; it has many carnivorous predators and is sensitive to climate change.

The marmot hibernates for about eight months, from September to May, losing almost half of its body weight by February. Mild winters interrupt hibernation and threaten the marmot population with starvation and predation early in the season. Common predators of marmots include bear, eagle, bobcat, coyote, and hawk. Hungry bears or coyotes might hunt hibernating woodchucks in the early spring.

Other than alerting each other to danger and hiding in their burrows for safety, groundhogs have no defensive tactics to repel predators. The Olympic marmot population has been declining for over a century. In the early part of the 20th century, there were about 20 Olympic woodchuck colonies in Washington state; in 25 it was only 2011. The Washington state animal, therefore, is a protected species and the hunting of the Olympic marmot is prohibited by law.

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