Yellow-Bellied Marmot: The Woes of the Lowly Rockchuck
Rockchucks (Marmota flaviventris), also known as Yellow-Bellied Marmots, have gotten a bad rap, but maybe they deserve it. These large (10-15 pound) furry rodents typically make their communal homes in rocky embankments and rockpiles, hence their name. In Central Oregon, where there is an abundance of basalt outcroppings from ancient lava flows, the rockchucks thrive among the crevices, roaming out from their protective rock pile to forage for vegetation whenever the coast is clear. Also nicknamed "Whistle Pigs" because of their shrill warning squeaks, Rockchucks are closely related to Hoary Marmots (native to the Northern Rockies), Richardson's Ground Squirrels (also known as "Sage Rats"), Woodchucks (also known as Groundhogs), and Prairie Dogs.
Rockchucks favor fresh garden vegetables and flowers over wild vegetation, which is probably why many people don’t like them around their yard. They can decimate a crop of cabbage, lettuce, summer squash, pansies or just about anything else you can grow in your garden. However, in a more natural setting, they will thrive on wild vegetation and leave humans alone.
Personally, I prefer them alive and well. Those who don't abhor them as pests often adore them as cute and harmless, but don't try to make them into pets. They grow large and can become aggressive when in close, confined contact with humans. However, given a clear escape route, they prefer to retreat to a protective burrow rather than face confrontation.
Photos featured here were taken at the north end of Bend, Oregon, where they have established their homes under the Bend Parkway or in rockpiles nearby. It seems their ideal habitat is the one man inadvertently makes for them. As embankments are constructed for elevated highways and overpasses, the result is a foundation of large rocks with plenty of space for the large rodents to burrow in between.
For comparison, below is a showcase of rockchuck photos from other contributors around the country, found on Dreamstime by variously searching for Rockchuck, Marmota flaviventris, Yellow-bellied Marmot, and Whistle Pig:
How to shoot events