Marmots, beaver, porcupines and red squirrels are all rodents, members of the large group of chewing, gnawing mammals. These rodents are quite familiar to residents of Southeast Alaska and are among the most watchable wildlife in the forests of Southeast.
Hoary Marmots are essentially large ground squirrels, and adults can weigh about 10 pounds. They live in dens and hibernate during the long Alaska winter. Marmots favor talus slopes in alpine areas, but some are found near sea level. Marmots are social animals and live in colonies. If one animal senses danger it warns the others with a shrill whistle.
Beavers are aquatic rodents, equipped with the ever-growing, self-sharpening set of front teeth that is characteristic of rodents. Beavers are not often seen in saltwater, but young beavers will sometimes swim along the coastline when seeking out new territories. Beaver dams and lodges can be found in the lower reaches of streams, rivers and sloughs. Beavers are the largest rodents in North America and grow throughout their entire lives. Adult beavers can weigh 40 to 70 pounds.
Porcupines are the second-largest Alaskan rodents, weighing 15 to 18 pounds on average, although some reach 25 pounds. They are found from sea level to the alpine, grazing on choice green plants or browsing on bark and leaves. When threatened, they do not shoot their quills but will swat aggressors with their quill-laden tails. Given the chance, however, they prefer to escape danger by climbing the nearest tree. Porcupines are relatively docile and easy to watch.
Red squirrels are the only tree squirrels in Alaska active by day; Alaska's only other tree squirrel is the elusive, nocturnal northern flying squirrel. Red squirrels are fiercely territorial and announce their claim to a half-acre patch of forest with their scolding chatter and loud, chirping, "chip, chip, chip" call. Spruce cones are the mainstay of their diet and they spend summers harvesting and storing these cones. They are active all winter, and add drama and life to the snowy forests of Southeast when most other birds and animals have migrated south or are tucked away hibernating.