Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/65

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57
AN OLD NATURALIST—CONRAD GESNER.

nest with two openings—one, pointing up the mountain, is used for walking in and out, while the other, which points down the mountain, is not used for these purposes, but as a place for depositing urine and fæces. A short passage leads from the burrow which connects these openings to a room or nest which is lined with hay, straw, or similar light substances.

About Michaelmas, when the mountains begin to be covered with snow, they hide themselves in their house, first plugging the openings with earth so firmly that they are harder to dig with a

PSM V47 D065 Gesner fish.jpg

Fig. 10.

shovel than the undisturbed ground around them. Thus securely protected from wind, rain, and cold, and rolled up in balls, like hedgehogs, they sleep through the whole winter, without food or drink, till spring comes again. Five, seven, nine, eleven, or even more, are often found thus sleeping in one nest. The proverb "He sleeps like a marmot" is applied to lazy people by the inhabitants of these regions. Even when kept and fed in houses, they sleep through the winter. That very learned man Dr. Conrad Gesner says that he fed one for some time in his house, and at the beginning of winter, about the time when it should have gone to sleep, he put it in a small pine barrel, which he half filled with straw and then closed up tightly with the head belonging to it, to protect his pet from the cold. When he opened the barrel after many days he found the animal dead. He thinks it was suffocated and that it might have lived if he had made a hole in the barrel, although he is very much astonished by the result of his experiment, and does not now see how they can survive in their nest when the holes are plugged up.

They make use of a peculiar device for bringing home their hay. If they have gathered a great quantity they need a wagon to carry it, and one of them lies down on his back and, lifting his feet toward heaven, forms supports like those of a hay wagon, between which the others pile the hay. When the cart is loaded, the other marmots take the tail in their mouths, drag their brother home like a sled, and, after unloading him, put the hay in their holes. As each one takes his turn of service as a sled, none of them have any hair on their backs at this season of the year.