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The only mammal that is 'endemic' to B.C. is part of a peculiar tradition over 100 years old

Watch a video of this fascinating tradition.
The Vancouver weather forecast might not be accurately predicated on Groundhog Day but there is an interesting story behind it.

While it might not seem like a significant event in British Columbia, many Canadians look forward to Groundhog Day each year. 

There isn't only one "groundhog" to mark the occasion, of course. In fact, most provinces have a signature rodent that scurries out of its borrow — and possibly back inside of it, too. 

The holiday's mascots from the Great White North have names as adorable as the critters themselves, including Lucy the Lobster in Nova Scotia, Fred la Marmotte in Quebec, and Manitoba Merv.

In B.C., Vancouver Island marks the annual affair with a Vancouver Island marmot called Van Isle Violet — and she is every bit as cute as her moniker. 

Van Isle Violet woke up from her extended winter snooze (hibernation) at the Marmot Recovery Foundation on Feb. 2 and called for six more weeks of winter before she was returned to her seasonal slumber.

The tradition of Groundhog Day is actually a relic of a celebration founded overseas in Germany called Candlemass, where locals would predict the arrival of spring with a badger, notes The Weather Network

Now, the most commonly used animal for the tradition is a marmot, which is a type of large ground squirrel "within the order Rodentia," according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica

Are rodent predictions indicative of what to expect this spring?

Across Canada, the results varied. In Ontario and Alberta, for example, their respective local critters called for an early arrival of spring. However, at least six other provinces called for the opposite.

While it would be magical if mountain-dwelling marmots could forecast the long-term Metro Vancouver weather forecast, that job is best left to the professionals (the human type). 

As Environment Canada Meteorologist Armel Castellan told V.I.A.Groundhog Day is a beloved, long-standing tradition and there isn't any harm in enjoying it. But it's best not to put any salt into the critter predictions. 

Anthony R.E. Sinclair, a professor emeritus from the University of British Columbia (UBC) who was instrumental in the recovery of the Vancouver Island marmot, agrees with this sentiment. That said, he's pleased that the annual celebration has sparked an interest in the animal he dedicated so much of his life to taking from the brink of extinction. 

The Vancouver Island marmot is one of three types of marmot species in B.C. The others include the yellow-bellied marmot, commonly found in the Interior, and the hoary marmot, he told V.I.A.

But the Vancouver Island variety came dangerously close to extinction about a couple of decades ago. 

During the ice age, Vancouver Island was part of the mainland since the sea level was 100 meters lower than it is now. Back then, the hoary marmot was living on both the island and the mainland.

After the sea came up at the end of the ice age, that population of hoary marmots evolved into the distinct Vancouver Island species, explained Sinclair. 

The Vancouver Island marmot evolution story isn't the only thing that makes it special, however. It is also the only mammal that is endemic to B.C., meaning that it doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. In fact, there are only five mammal species that are endemic to Canada, making the mountain-dwelling rodents a unique species. 

According to the Marmot Rescue Foundation, only 30 of the Vancouver Island marmots existed in the wild. Thanks to a tremendous rescue effort, over 200 of them were recorded in the wild in 2021. 

The Vancouver Island Marmot is a hardy animal that lives in the alpine zone on the top of mountains above the tree line. They fill their rock dens with alpine flowers and other material to eat and line their nests with over the winter during hibernation, explained Sinclair. 

And while this unique species might not fit the parameters of a "scientific" weather model, Van Isle Violet has an impressive track record early in her forecasting career. 

Last year, the popular critter called for six more weeks of winter, and the rescue foundation notes that "we were still skiing on Father's Day." 

Watch a video of Violet awakening from her winter's sleep.