A marmot sang in Graubünden meadows

That’s no beaver, that’s my marmot!

In a posting about, among other things, the advertising posters of Donald Brun, I appreciated this charming poster for the Alpine resort Davos, in the Swiss canton of Graubünden / Grisons:


But in my naive North American way, I took the creature in the poster to be a beaver, while it turns out to be a cousin of the beavers (genus Castor), the Alpine marmot (Marmota marmota), which is something of an icon for the canton. Also much more closely related to the North America groundhog (Marmota monax) than to beavers.

Emery Snyder’s comment (with a number of links) on my treatment of #1 (#4 in my earlier posting):

marmots are often used as a symbol of Grisons/Graubünden

On marmotsFrom Wikipedia:

(#2) Marmot on Alpine sentry duty

Marmots are large squirrels in the genus Marmota, with 15 species.

Some species live in mountainous areas, such as the Alps, northern Apennines, Carpathians, Tatras, and Pyrenees in Europe and northwestern Asia; the Rocky Mountains, Black Hills, the Cascade and Pacific Ranges, and the Sierra Nevada in North America; and the Deosai Plateau in Pakistan and Ladakh in India. Other species prefer rough grassland and can be found widely across North America and the Eurasian Steppe. The similarly sized but more social prairie dog is not classified in the genus Marmota, but in the related genus Cynomys.

Marmots typically live in burrows (often within rockpiles, particularly in the case of the yellow-bellied marmot), and hibernate there through the winter. Most marmots are highly social and use loud whistles to communicate with one another, especially when alarmed.

Marmots mainly eat greens and many types of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, roots, and flowers.

The close relatives of the Alpine marmot, from Wikipedia:

The ground squirrels are members of the squirrel family of rodents (Sciuridae) which generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees. The term is most often used for the medium-sized ground squirrels, as the larger ones are more commonly known as marmots (genus Marmota) or prairie dogs, while the smaller and less bushy-tailed ground squirrels tend to be known as chipmunks. Together, they make up the “marmot tribe” of squirrels, Marmotini, and the large and mainly ground squirrel subfamily Xerinae, and containing six living genera. Well-known members of this largely Holarctic group are the marmots (Marmota), including the American groundhog [Marmota monax], the chipmunks [genus Tamias], the susliks (Spermophilus), and the prairie dogs (Cynomys). They are highly variable in size and habitus, but most are remarkably able to rise up on their hind legs and stand fully erect comfortably for prolonged periods. They also tend to be far more gregarious than other squirrels, and many live in colonies with complex social structures. Most Marmotini are rather short-tailed and large squirrels, and the alpine marmot (Marmota marmota) is the largest living member of the Sciuridae, at 53–73 cm in length and weighing 5–8 kg.

Beavers are related, but more distantly. From Wikipedia:

Beavers, along with pocket gophers and kangaroo rats, are castorimorph rodents, a suborder of rodents mostly restricted to North America.

… The North American and Eurasian beavers are the only extant members of the family Castoridae, contained in a single genus, Castor.

Most of these creatures are viewed as agricultural or garden pests.

Rodents come in three size ranges:

Big rodents, including the largest living species, the capybara, weighing 77 to 146 lbs.; and the beavers (Eurasian beaver, 24 – 66 lbs, and North American beaver, 24 – 71 lbs)

Middle-sized rodents: the groundhog, ca. 8.6 lbs., and the Alpine marmot, 6.2 – 7.3 lbs (both in the genus Marmota)

Small rodents, including rats, mice, and voles, plus (in roughly descending order of size): the prairie dog, 1.1 – 3.3 lbs; the California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus [formerly Spermophilus] beecheyi), .62 – 1.6 lbs; the Eastern gray squirrel, .88 – 1.3 lbs.; (pocket) gophers, ca. .5 lb; and chipmunks, .11 – .33 lb. (1.8 – 5.3 oz)

So marmots are, roughly, really big (ground) squirrels, and share many behavioral characteristics with them; and they superficially resemble compact versions of beavers, but are burrowing rather than dam-building creatures.

[Digression: the etymology of marmot. From OED3 (Dec. 2000)

Origin: A borrowing from French. Etymons: French marmotte, marmot.

Etymology: < French marmotte [fem.] (12th cent. in Old French; also Middle French marmot (masculine), c1572; 15th cent. in texts from Namur), further etymology disputed [an extraordinaily complex and significantly inconclusive etymological essay follows]

Sense 1, the rodent, has its first cite in 1607; the extended sense 2, ‘a style of headgear for women’, is first attested in 1877.]

Tucked into the OED‘s etymological essay is a reference to the German name for the creature, (das) Murmeltier. From German Wikipedia:

Die Murmeltiere (Marmota), in der Schweiz auch Munggen, in Oberbayern und Österreich auch Mankei genannt, sind eine aus vierzehn Arten bestehende Gattung bis zu 50 Zentimeter langer Echter Erdhörnchen (Marmotini), die in Eurasien und Nordamerika verbreitet sind.

The name Murmeltier just cries out for folk etymology, relating it to the verb murmeln ‘to murmur’ (onomatopoetically, from the animal’s cries or whistles) or possibly to the noun (die) Murmel ‘marble’ (perhaps from the animal’s statue-like motionless posing on its hind feet). Both possibilities have been suggested in actual etymologies.

Now to marmots and canton Graubünden, from a Swiss “Discover Our Regions” site:

Marmots can be heard whistling around their dens in Graubünden. With these whistles, which are in fact cries, marmots warn each other. A single whistle signals a golden eagle attack from above, whereas a series of whistles signal danger from below. In many places, «Munggen», as marmots are called in Graubünden, have lost their shyness to humans.

On the canton (Fr.) or Kanton (Gm.), from Wikipedia:

Grisons (German: Graubünden, Italian: Grigioni; Romansh: Grischuns) is the largest and easternmost canton of Switzerland. The canton shares borders with the cantons of Ticino [a majority Italian-speaking canton], Uri [one of the three founding cantons of the Swiss Confederation], Glarus [famous on this blog as the Zwicky-Kanton] and St. Gallen [who most-spoken language are Swiss German dialects] and international borders with Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. The name Graubünden translates as the “Grey Leagues” [German grau, French gris, Italian grigio, Romansh grisch, all ‘gray’], referring to the canton’s origin in three local alliances, the League of God’s House, the Grey League, and the League of the Ten Jurisdictions. Grisons is also home to three [of four] of Switzerland’s ethnic groups and the subsequent languages of Swiss German, Italian and Romansh are all native to the canton. It is the only officially trilingual canton and the only canton where the Romansh language has official status.

So, sprawling and truly international, but also astoundingly mountainous, with plenty of glaciers and very deep river valleys. Its capital and largest city, Chur, from Wikipedia:

(#3) Chur seen to the west and the Rhine valley towards its source

Chur or Coire is the capital and largest town of the Swiss canton of Grisons and lies in the Grisonian Rhine Valley, where the Rhine turns towards the north, in the northern part of the canton. The city, which is located on the right bank of the Rhine, is reputedly the oldest town of Switzerland.

… Chur has a population (as of 31 December 2016) of 34,880 [roughly half the population of Palo Alto].

Prime marmot territory.

The title of this posting. A play on “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. From Wikipedia:

“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is a romantic British popular song written in 1939 with lyrics by Eric Maschwitz and music by Manning Sherwin.

Berkeley Square (pronounced ‘Bar-klee’) is a large leafy square in Mayfair, an expensive part of London. The Ritz Hotel referred to is also in Mayfair.

The nightingale, a rare native songbird, is celebrated in literature and music for the beauty of its song. It favours rural habitats, and is unlikely to be heard in Central London.

You can listen to Vera Lynn’s 1940 recording here.


4 Responses to “A marmot sang in Graubünden meadows”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I didn’t know Murmel for English marble. The German word I’m familiar with (from 19th-century poetry) is Marmor.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Steve Anderson on Facebook:

    Not everyone is ecstatic about these little darlings:

    It was bound to happen someplace. Marmots are fine up in Alpine meadows, but down in the town of Zermatt (for instance), they’re serious pests. Like groundhogs, prairie dogs, ordinary ground squirrels, and pocket gophers, marmots do not mix well with gardens and agriculture.

  3. [BLOG] Some Saturday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky notes the marmots of, among other places, cosmopolitan and multilingual Swiss canton of […]

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    Another bulletin from Steve Anderson:

    Yet more on the little cuties. I think I have a jar of marmot oil cream somewhere, but I don’t really know what they taste like.

    As a kid I had some groundhog stew — the family’s way of coping with the pests on my aunt and uncle’s farm — and remember it as dark and gamey, but pretty tasty, at least after slow-cooking in wine.

    The highlights of the Swiss information piece:

    “Cute rodent appears on postcards and plates” by Susan Misicka and Julie Hunt:
    Their fat faces grace postcards, and their fat is used in salves. In Switzerland, the marmot is part mascot, part medicine chest – and for game lovers, a meal.

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