Marmots: Not The Social Butterflies That Prairie Dogs Are

Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis

Many animals, including us, are known to fare better when we have regular social interactions. However a new study released in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by The Royal Society, has found that marmots, a species of large alpine squirrel, live longer lives when actually not interacting as frequently with their counterparts. University of California biologist Daniel T. Blumstein led the study at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado to determine whether marmots that exhibit more sociability with affiliates will live longer. They found the opposite was true:

“In yellow-bellied marmots, a facultatively social mammal, this pattern does not hold. We used formal social network measures of relationship strength, a relatively large sample size of long-lived free-living mammals, and the appropriate bivariate model that permitted us to isolate and estimate the covariance between sociality and longevity. We found that five of the 11 affiliative social network traits we measured were significantly associated with reduced lifespans. Stated succinctly, more social animals lived shorter lives.”

The reasoning behind why marmots that socialize lead shorter lives is still being postulated and various hypotheses have been suggested such as the spread of disease, disruption of hibernation cycle, and unawareness of nearby predators. Whatever the reasoning, it seems that this ground squirrel species does better with minimal interaction with others as compared to its related species, the prairie dog, that even has individuals who act as “hubs” between colony networks.