Tarbagan is a rodent of the squirrel family. Scientific description and name of the Mongolian marmot — Marmota sibirica, given by a researcher of Siberia, the Far East and the Caucasus — Rudde Gustav Ivanovich in 1862
Origin of the species and description
Mongolian marmots are found in the Northern Hemisphere, like all their counterparts, but the habitat extends to the southeastern part of Siberia, Mongolia and northern China. It is customary to distinguish between two subspecies of the tarbagan. Common or Marmota sibirica sibirica lives in Transbaikalia, Eastern Mongolia, in China. The Khangai subspecies of Marmota sibirica caliginosus is found in Tuva, western and central parts of Mongolia.
Tarbagan, as eleven closely related and five extinct marmot species that exist today in the world, appeared from an offshoot of the genus Marmota from Prospermophilus in the Late Miocene. Species diversity in the Pliocene was wider. The European remains date back to the Pliocene, while the North American remains date back to the end of the Miocene.
Modern marmots have retained many special features of the structure of the Oligocene Paramyidae axial skull than other representatives of ground squirrels. Not direct, but the closest relatives of modern marmots were the American Palearctomys Douglass and Arktomyoides Douglass, who lived in the Miocene in meadows and sparse forests.
In Transbaikalia, fragmentary remains of a small marmot from the Late Paleolithic, probably belonging to Marmota sibirica, were found. The most ancient ones were found on Mount Tologoy south of Ulan-Ude. Tarbagan, or as it is also called, the Siberian marmot, is closer in features to the marmot than to the Altai species, it is even more similar to the southwestern form of the Kamchatka marmot.
The animal is found throughout Mongolia and the adjacent regions of Russia, also in the northeast and northwest of China, in the autonomous region of Nei-Menggu (the so-called Inner Mongolia) bordering Mongolia and the province of Heilongjiang, which borders on Russia. In Transbaikalia, it can be found along the left bank of the Selenga, up to Gusinoye Lake, in the steppes of southern Transbaikalia.
In Tyva, it is found in the Chuya steppe, east of the Burkhei-Murei River, in the southeastern Sayan Mountains north of Lake Khubsugul. The exact boundaries of the range in places of contact with other representatives of marmots (gray in the Southern Altai and Kamchatka in the Eastern Sayan) are not known.
Appearance and Features
The length of the carcass is 56.5 cm, the tail is 10.3 cm, which is approximately 25% of the body length. The length of the skull is 8.6 – 9.9 mm, it has a narrow and high forehead and wide cheekbones. In the tarbagan, the postorbital tubercle is not as pronounced as in other species. Coat, short, soft. The color is gray-yellow, ocher, but on closer inspection it ripples with dark chestnut tips of the guard hairs. The lower half of the carcass is reddish-gray. On the sides, the color is fawn and contrasts both the back and the abdomen.
The top of the head is colored darker, looks like a hat, especially in autumn, after molting. It is no further than the line that connects the middle of the ears. The cheeks, where the vibrissae are located, are light and their color range merges. The place between the eyes and ears is also light. Sometimes the ears are slightly reddish, but more often, gray. The area under the eyes is slightly darker, and around the lips it is white, but there is a black border in the corners and on the chin. The tail, like the color of the back, is dark or gray-brown on the terminal part, like its underside.
The incisors of this rodent are much better developed than the molars. Adaptability to life in burrows and the need to dig them with their paws affected their shortening, the hind limbs were especially modified compared to other squirrels, especially chipmunks. The fourth finger of the rodent is more developed than the third, and the first forelimb may be absent. Tarbagans do not have cheek pouches. The weight of animals reaches 6-8 kg, reaching a maximum of 9.8 kg, and by the end of summer 25% of the weight is fat, about 2-2.3 kg. Subcutaneous fat is 2-3 times less than abdominal fat.
Tarbagans of the northern areas of the range are smaller in size. Larger and darker-colored individuals are found in the mountains. Eastern specimens are lighter, the farther to the west, the darker the color of the animals. M. s. sibirica is smaller and lighter in size with a more distinct dark cap. M. s. caliginosus is larger, the upperparts are darker to chocolate brown, and the cap is not as pronounced as in the previous subspecies, the fur is slightly longer.
Where does the tarbagan live?
Tarbagans are found in foothill and alpine meadow steppes. Their habitats with sufficient vegetation for grazing are: meadows, shrubs, mountain steppes, alpine meadows, open steppes, forest steppes, mountain slopes, semi-deserts, river basins and valleys. They can be found at an altitude of up to 3.8 thousand meters above sea level. m., but do not live in purely alpine meadows. Salt marshes, narrow ravines and hollows are also avoided.
In the north of the range, they settle on the southern, warmer slopes, but can occupy forest edges on the northern slopes. Favorite habitats are foothill and mountain steppes. In such places, the diversity of the landscape provides the animals with food for a sufficiently long period. There are areas where the grass turns green early in the spring and shady areas where the vegetation does not burn out for a long time in the summer. In accordance with this, seasonal migrations of tarbagans occur. The seasonality of biological processes affects the activity of life and reproduction of animals.
As the vegetation burns out, tarbagan migrations are also observed, the same can be observed in the mountains, depending on the annual displacement of the humidification zone, feeding migrations take place. Vertical movements can be 800-1000 meters in height. Subspecies live at different heights M. s. sibirica occupies the lower steppes, and M. s. caliginosus rises higher along mountain ranges and slopes.
The Siberian marmot prefers the steppes:
- mountain grasses and sedges, rarely sagebrush;
- forb (dance);
- feather grass, vostretsovye, with an admixture of sedges and forbs.
When choosing a habitat, tarbagans choose those where there is a good overview – in low-grass steppes. In Transbaikalia and eastern Mongolia, it settles in the mountains along smoothed gorges and gullies, as well as along hilly mountains. In the past, the boundaries of habitat reached the forest zone. Now the animal is better preserved in the remote mountainous region of Khentei and the mountains of western Transbaikalia.
Now you know where the tarbagan is found. Let's see what the marmot eats.
What does the tarbagan eat?
Siberian marmots are herbivorous and eat green parts of plants: cereals, Asteraceae, moths.
In western Transbaikalia, the main diet of tarbagans is:
- sleep grass;
- also various types of wild onions and wormwood.
An interesting fact: When kept in captivity, these animals ate well 33 plant species out of 54 that grow in the steppes of Transbaikalia.
There is a change of food according to the seasons. In the spring, while there is little greenery, when the tarbagans come out of their holes, they eat the growing turf from grasses and sedges, rhizomes and bulbs. From May to mid-August, having a lot of food, they can eat their favorite heads of Compositae, which contain a lot of proteins and easily digestible substances. From August, and in dry years even earlier, when the steppe vegetation burns out, rodents stop eating them, but in the shade, in relief depressions, forbs and wormwood still persist.
As a rule, the Siberian marmot does not eat animal food, in captivity they were offered birds, ground squirrels, grasshoppers, beetles, larvae, but the marmots did not accept this food. But probably, in case of drought and lack of food, they also eat animal food.
An interesting fact: The fruits of plants, seeds are not digested by Siberian marmots, but they scatter them, and together with organic fertilizer and sprinkling with a layer of earth, this improves the landscape of the steppe.
For a day, the tarbagan eats from one to one and a half kg of green mass. The animal does not drink water. Groundhogs meet early spring with an almost unused supply of abdominal fat, as well as subcutaneous fat, it begins to be consumed with an increase in activity. New fat begins to accumulate in late May – July.
Character and lifestyle features
The way of life of the tarbagan is similar to the behavior and life of the marmot, the gray marmot, but their burrows are deeper, although the number of chambers is less. More often than not, it's just one big camera. In the mountains, the type of settlements is focal and beam. Outlets for the winter, but not passages in front of the nesting chamber, are clogged with an earthen plug. On the hilly plains, for example, as in Dauria, the Bargoi steppe, the settlements of the Mongolian marmot are evenly distributed over a large area.
Wintering, depending on the habitat and landscape, is 6 & # 8212; 7.5 months Mass hibernation in the southeast of Transbaikalia occurs at the end of September, the process itself can be extended for 20-30 days. Animals that live near highways or where they are disturbed by humans do not grow fat well and hibernate longer.
The depth of the burrow, the amount of bedding and the greater number of animals allows maintaining the temperature in the chamber at 15 degrees. If it drops to zero, then the animals go into a half-asleep state and with their movements they warm up each other and the surrounding space. Burrows that Mongolian marmots have been using for years are growing large ejections of earth. The local name for such marmots is butanes. Their size is smaller than that of marmots or mountain marmots. The greatest height is 1 meter, in the cross section about 8 meters. Sometimes you can find more massive marmots — up to 20 meters.
In cold, snowless winters, tarbagans that have not accumulated fat die. Exhausted animals also die in early spring, when there is little food, or during snowstorms in April-May. First of all, these are young individuals who have not had time to work up fat. In spring, tarbagans are very active, spend a lot of time on the surface, moving far from their holes, to where the grass has turned green for 150-300 meters. They often graze on marmots, where vegetation begins earlier.
On summer days, the animals are in holes, rarely coming to the surface. They come out to feed when the heat subsides. In autumn, fat Siberian marmots lie on marmots, but those who have not gained fat graze in depressions. After the onset of cold weather, tarbagans rarely leave their holes, and even then, only at noon. Two weeks before hibernation, the animals begin to actively prepare bedding for the winter chamber.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Animals live in the steppes in colonies, communicating with each other by sounds and controlling the territory visually. To do this, they sit on their hind legs, looking around the world. For a wider view, they have large, bulging eyes that are placed higher towards the top of the head and further down the sides. Tarbagans prefer to live on an area from 3 to 6 hectares, but under adverse conditions they will live on 1.7 — 2 ha.
Siberian marmots use burrows for several generations if no one disturbs them. In mountainous regions, where the soil does not allow digging many deep burrows, there are cases when up to 15 individuals hibernate in one chamber, but on average 3-4-5 animals hibernate in burrows. The weight of the litter in the winter nest can reach 7-9 kg.
Rutting, and soon fertilization, occurs in Mongolian marmots after waking up in winter burrows, before they emerge to the surface. Pregnancy lasts 30-42 days, lactation lasts the same. Surchata, after one week they can suck milk and eat vegetation. There are 4-5 babies in the litter. The sex ratio is about equal. In the first year, 60% of the offspring die.
Young marmots do not leave the burrows of their parents until they are three years old or until they reach maturity. Other members of the extended family colony are also involved in raising children, mainly in the form of thermoregulation during hibernation. Such alloparental care increases the overall survival of the species. A family colony under stable conditions consists of 10-15 individuals, under unfavorable conditions of 2-6. About 65% of sexually mature females participate in reproduction. This type of marmot becomes suitable for procreation in the fourth year of life in Mongolia and in the third year in Transbaikalia.
Interesting fact: In Mongolia, hunters call underyearlings “mundal”, two-year-olds – “boiler” , three-year-olds – “sharahatszar”. An adult male – “burh”, a female – “tarch”.
Natural enemies of tarbagans
Of the birds of prey, the most dangerous for the Siberian marmot is the golden eagle, although it is rarely found in Transbaikalia. Steppe eagles prey on sick individuals and marmots, and also eat dead rodents. The Central Asian hawk shares this food supply with the steppe eagles, playing the role of steppe orderly. Tarbagans attract buzzards and hawks. Of the predatory quadrupeds, wolves cause the greatest harm to Mongolian marmots, and the livestock may also decrease due to the attack of stray dogs. Snow leopards and brown bears can hunt them.
Interesting fact: While tarbagans are active, wolves do not attack flocks of sheep. After the rodents hibernate, gray predators switch to domestic animals.
Foxes most often lie in wait for young marmots. They are successfully hunted by corsac and light ferret. Badgers do not attack Mongolian marmots and rodents do not pay attention to them. But the hunters found the remains of marmots in the badger's stomach, in size it can be assumed that they were so small that they had not yet left the hole. Tarbagans are disturbed by fleas living in wool, ixodid and lower ticks, and lice. Skin gadfly larvae can parasitize under the skin. Animals also suffer from coccidia and nematodes. These internal parasites drive rodents to exhaustion and even death.
Tarbagans are used by the local population for food. In Tyva and Buryatia, it is no longer so common (perhaps due to the fact that the animal has become quite rare), but everywhere in Mongolia. Animal meat is considered a delicacy, fat is used not only for food, but also for the preparation of medicines. The skins of rodents were not particularly valued in the past, but modern dressing and dyeing technologies make it possible to imitate their fur to look like more valuable furs.
Interesting fact: If the tarbagan is disturbed, it never jumps out of its hole. When a person begins to dig it, the animal digs deeper and deeper, and the passage after itself clogs with an earthen plug. The caught animal resists desperately and can seriously injure, clinging to a human stranglehold.
Species population and status
The tarbagan population has declined significantly over the past century. This is especially noticeable on the territory of Russia.
- unregulated hunting of the animal;
- cultivation of virgin lands in Transbaikalia and Dauria;
- special extermination to prevent outbreaks of plague (the tarbagan is a carrier of this disease).
In the 30-40s of the last century in Tuva, along the Tannu-Ola ridge, there were less than 10 thousand individuals. In the western Transbaikalia, their number in the 30s was also about 10 thousand animals. In the southeastern Transbaikalia at the beginning of the 20th century. there were several million tarbagans, and by the middle of the century in the same areas, in the main distribution array, the number was no higher than 10 individuals per 1 km2. Only to the north of the Kailastui station, in a small area, the density was 30 units. per 1 km2. But the number of animals was constantly decreasing, as hunting traditions are strong among the local population.
The approximate number of animals in the world is about 10 million. In Russia, there were up to 38,000 individuals, including:
- in Buryatia — 25000,
- in Tyva – 11000,
- in South-Eastern Transbaikalia – 2000.
Now the number of the animal has decreased many times, it is largely supported by the movement of tarbagans from Mongolia. Hunting for the animal in Mongolia in the 1990s reduced the population there by 70%, moving this species from “causing the least concern” to the category of “endangered”. According to recorded hunting data for 1942-1960. it is known that in 1947 the illegal trade reached a peak of 2.5 million units. Between 1906 and 1994, at least 104.2 million skins were prepared for sale in Mongolia.
The actual number of skins sold exceeds the hunting quota by more than three times. In 2004, more than 117 thousand illegally obtained skins were confiscated. A hunting boom has taken place since the price of pelts has risen, and factors such as improved roads and modes of transport are giving hunters more access to find rodent colonies.
In the Red Book of Russia, the animal is, as in the IUCN list, in the category “endangered” & # 8212; this is a population in the south-east of Transbaikalia, in the category “decreasing” in the territory of Tyva, North-Eastern Transbaikalia. The animal is protected in the Borgoisky and Orotsky reserves, in the Sokhondinsky and Daursky reserves, as well as in the territory of Buryatia and the Trans-Baikal Territory. To protect and restore the population of these animals, it is necessary to create specialized reserves, as well as measures for reintroduction, using individuals from prosperous settlements.
The safety of this animal species should also be taken care of, because the life activity of tarbagans has a great impact on the landscape. Flora on marmots is more saline, less prone to burnout. Mongolian marmots are key species that play a vital role in biogeographic zones. In Mongolia, hunting for animals is allowed from August 10 to October 15, depending on changes in the number of animals. Hunting was completely banned in 2005, 2006. The tarbagan is on the list of rare animals of Mongolia. It occurs within protected areas throughout its range (approximately 6% of its range).
The tarbagan is an animal to which several monuments have been erected. One of them is located in Krasnokamensk and is a composition of two figures in the form of a miner and a hunter, this is a symbol of an animal that was almost exterminated in Dauria. Another urban sculpture was installed in Angarsk, where at the end of the last century the production of hats from tarbagan fur was launched. There is a large two-figure composition in Tuva near the village of Mugur-Aksy. Two monuments to the tarbagan were erected in Mongolia: one in Ulaanbaatar, and the other, made of traps, in the Eastern Aimag of Mongolia.