Marmot vs Prairie Dog: 6 Key Differences

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: July 10, 2022
© Virginie Merckaert/Shutterstock.com
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The Sciuridae family of rodents contains several different species that are somewhat similar to one another. Many are small, furry, and live in burrows or other alcoves. Two mammals that belong to the Sciuridae family and share many similarities are the marmot and the prairie dog. Today, we’re going to break down the most significant differences between these creatures. Once we’re finished with our marmot vs prairie dog comparison, you’ll know exactly how to tell them apart and what makes them unique.

Without further ado, let’s start by looking at a quick breakdown of the key differences between these animals.

Comparing a Marmot and a Prairie Dog

Marmots are larger than prairie dogs.

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MarmotPrairie Dog
SizeWeight: 3.5 to 24 pounds
Length: 17 to 29 inches
Weight: 1 to 4 pounds
Length: 12 to 16 inches, including their short tails
Appearance– Short brown or yellow fur
– Small ears and a black nose
– Legs with strong claws for digging
– Various species have different markings, including dark spots on their face
– Rodent-like with small, almond-shaped eyes
– Short, strong legs with nails on their front and forelegs
– Yellow buff fur with black hairs and few markings aside from the tail in some species
Social Habits– Live in small families of between 10 and 20 others
– Usually, families include one male and one dominant female along with other females and offspring
–  Some species live alone or with one other
Rarely interact with other families
– Also stands guard and issues a whistling or chattering sound to signal danger  
– Form “towns” of different prairie dog families.
– Burrow systems can measure from 13 to 109 feet long and reach nearly 14 feet below ground.
– Form small groups, or coteries, consisting of a male, up to four females, and their offspring
– Towns may have over 20 small family groups
– Frequently groom one another
– Guards “bark” to signal danger
– Barks are specific to the predator, with specific calls including elements like color
Range– Asia, Europe, and North America– North and Central America
Genus– Marmota
– Member of the squirrel family
– Cynomys
– Also a member of the squirrel family
Hibernation– True hibernation, where they are dormant throughout the winter and remain in burrows– Torpor rather than true hibernation, so they are just much less active

The 6 Key Differences Between a Marmot and Prairie Dog

prairie dog family in a burrow
Male prairie dogs fight to establish dominance and adhere to a rigid social hierarchy.

©Frank Fichtmueller/Shutterstock.com

The biggest differences between a marmot and a prairie dog include their size, location, and socialization. The marmot is a social or solitary herbivore with a range throughout Asia, North America, and Europe that weighs up to 24 pounds and measures up to 29 inches long. The prairie dog is a highly social creature from North and Central America that weighs between 1 and 4 pounds and grows up to 16 inches, including its tails.

These differences vary in significance, but they are all worth exploring. Now, we’re going in-depth on the six differences between these two mammals.

Marmot vs Prairie Dog: Size

Marmots are larger than prairie dogs. The average marmot can weigh anywhere from 3.5 to 24 pounds and measure between 17 and 29 inches, including its tail. On average, even the smallest marmot weighs more than the largest prairie dog. However, the size of marmots can vary from species to species.

Marmot vs Prairie Dog: Appearance

prairie dogs kissing
Prairie dogs have a rodent-like appearance.

©Nick Fox/Shutterstock.com

Telling a marmot and a prairie dog apart by appearance alone can be challenging. Marmots have short brown or yellow fur, sometimes a mix of both, depending on the species. They have small ears and a black nose, too. Furthermore, they possess short legs with strong claws. Some species have markings, including darkened spots on their faces and different colors in their fur.

Prairie dogs tend to have yellow buff fur with some black hairs and very few markings across all species. One species does have a black tail, though. They are small and rodent-like with almond-shaped eyes. They also have short legs with nails on the forelegs and rear legs for digging.

Marmot vs Prairie Dog: Social Habits

Amazing Mountain Animal: Himalayan Marmot
Marmots can live in groups or as individuals.

©Kamal Hari Menon/Shutterstock.com

The social habits of marmots vary between species. Some of them live alone or with one other partner. Others live in small families with between 10 and 20 animals.

Usually, they have one dominant male and female, several subservient females, and their young for the first year or so of their lives. They rarely interact with other families. Like other members of the Sciuridae family, marmots will stand guard outside of their burrows. They will whistle or chatter when danger is near and retreat to their burrows.

Prairie dogs are highly social creatures that form large towns or groups of large burrows that can spread out over several acres. These burrow systems can measure dozens of feet long and sink over 14 feet into the ground.

Prairie dogs also have very specific barks that tell their family valuable and specific information about predators nearby. All told, these towns can have about 20 family groups spread out of a large area, with over a hundred different animals living there.

Marmot vs Prairie Dog: Range

Marmots and prairie dogs have different ranges around the world. Prairie dogs live in North and Central America. For the most part, prairie dogs can be spotted east of the Rocky Mountains in the central plains from Canada to Mexico. Marmots live in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Marmot vs Prairie Dog: Genus

Although they belong to the same family, marmots and prairie dogs belong to different families. For example, the marmots belong to the genus Marmota, and they are a type of squirrel. The prairie dog is a member of the Cynomys genus, and it is also a member of the family to which squirrels belong.

Marmot vs Prairie Dog: Hibernation

Marmots spend the winter hibernating.

©samray/Shutterstock.com

The marmot is an interesting mammal because it undergoes true hibernation where they are dormant throughout the winter in their burrows. The same is not true of prairie dogs. They undergo a minimal type of hibernation called torpor, but they are simply less active and still emerge from burrows during winter.

Marmots and prairie dogs are similar animals, but they have many differences. We’ve gone over six ways that these animals are unlike each other. Now, you should have few problems telling one of these mammals from the other.

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Olympic Marmot
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About the Author

I've been a freelance writer since 2013, and I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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