Skip to main content

For marmots, being more social means dying earlier

For marmots, being more social means dying earlier


We’re not sure why

Share this story

Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris)...
Photo by DeAgostini / Getty Images

Social marmots die younger than their more withdrawn counterparts, according to scientists who studied yellow-bellied marmots for over a decade. The scientists spied on the marmots through binoculars for six hours a day.

For a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists studied 11 colonies of marmots at a site in Colorado from 2002 to 2015. (They observed them from about the distance of a football field, so as not to disturb them.) Since yellow-bellied marmot colonies are led by females and have no adult males, the researchers focused on female social relationships. Measuring the social interactions (like playing and grooming) and lifespans of these animals showed that less-social marmots lived, on average, two years longer than the social ones.

It’s unclear why this happens, though previous studies have suggested that the most social yellow-bellied marmots were more likely to die over the winter and had fewer children. Lead author Daniel Blumstein, a biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles told The New York Times that it’s possible that the social marmots catch more diseases, or aren’t as alert of predators. Or perhaps waking each other during hibernation might make them more likely to starve in the dead of winter.

In humans, research has shown the opposite effect: those of us with stronger relationships tend to live longer. The key difference may have to do with the fact that these animals, unlike us, aren’t necessarily built to be social. Yellow-bellied marmots can live solitary lives or live in groups of different sizes. They don’t necessarily need to cooperate to survive.

So if you don’t need others, maybe it’s best to stay at home.