Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In praise of rock chucks...

I’ve just returned from a walk through North Pasture and around Fan Rock where I was charged by a rampaging rock chuck. I was minding my own business, contemplating the approaching storm, when I was almost bowled over by this cute little critter, bolting across my path and up the hill to retreat in an outcrop of boulders. He then stood up on his stumpy hind legs, held his little paws up like a kangaroo and squeaked like a dysfunctional fire alarm, clearly telling me off for interrupting his afternoon. It made me laugh out loud, as I do every time I see one.

Rock chucks are, in my opinion, amongst the cutest animals on earth, up there with baby sloths and new-born elephants. I can only describe them as a cross between a ferret, a Pekinese dog and a horizontal toilet brush ... sort of like Daniel Boone’s hat come to life, scurrying through the sage brush.
A rock chuck, for my uninformed and curious friends in Australia, is actually a yellow-bellied marmot, a type of ground squirrel that lives in the western United States and Canada. It dwells in meadows above 6,500 feet, usually on the edge of pine forests ... just like in the Big Horn Mountains, where there are literally thousands of the little fellas.
They live in underground burrows (rather perilous to horses’ slender legs) and around rocks, which they use as forts and sentry posts to whistle warnings when predators - coyotes, foxes, hawks, wolves and apparently humans - approach. For this reason they are sometimes called ‘whistle pigs’.
Here, thanks to my good friend Wikipedia, are some more rock chuck facts you might not know:
  • they can live up to 15 years.
  • they live in colonies of up to 20, with each male having four ladies on the run. In other words, a ‘harem-polygamous mating system”.
  • They have 5-9 pups in a litter.
  • They hibernate in winter.
  • hunters like to take pot shots at them.
They are also deceptively quick for such fatsos, and one day I saw one swim across a creek in escape.

Oh, and songstress extraordinaire Kristin Ford, who performed at the ranch a couple of weeks ago, is apparently writing a song about them. Can't wait to hear that one!
I’m yet to get a decent photograph of a rock chuck - they always seem to make an appearance when I’m sans camera - but the above shot is my best effort. The ones below are stolen from Wikipedia...


  1. Billy would like to join you, if he could.
    He saw the link on my FB page and yelled, 'A yellow bellied marmot!'
    ... as most 8 year old boys do.

    Loving hearing all your adventures. We are doing LA to Boston by road next year, and you are making the 'middle' awesome!!


  2. Billy, make sure your mum and dad bring you here next year! You'd love all the animals. Come in early June while the moose are still here!