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Research / Discovery

No one puts Baby in the corner

January 29, 2014
Kortny Rolston

Baby, a marmot CSU researcher Greg Florant has raised since birth, is starring in an upcoming PBS documentary on home-building mammals.

Greg Florant is no stranger to media.

The Colorado State University professor is known for his research on how hibernating mammals – particularly marmots – use fats and other nutrients to hibernate. Reporters often interview him on Groundhog Day when Punxsutawney Phil, the famous marmot, “emerges” from hibernation and predicts an early spring or longer winter based on whether he sees his shadow.

But when a documentary on home-building mammals airs on the PBS series Nature in 2015, it will be Baby, the marmot Florant has raised since birth, who will get top billing.

“Baby is the star, not me,” Florant said. “I might be interviewed on camera, but the producer’s real interest is filming Baby as he prepares for, enters, and emerges from hibernation.”CSU Professor Greg Florant has raised Baby, a marmot, since birth.

Ann Prum, who is producing the show for PBS, agreed.

“Marmots are one of the homebuilders we are featuring, and Baby plays a big role in this show,” said Prum of Coneflower Productions

Prum contacted Florant about the project last year after reading about his research. She had hoped to film marmots in the wild and scouted several locations in Colorado with Florant’s help.

“There just wasn’t the right habitat where we could get the shots we needed,” she said.

That’s when she learned about Baby.

A star is born

The 14-year-old marmot was born in Florant’s lab, and the researcher has raised him since. Baby often accompanies Florant to schools when he educates people about hibernation.

“We are allowing the marmot to do what he would naturally do in the wild – in the lab,” Prum said.

To do that, they placed plastic totes filled with dirt on the floor to help create a set where Baby could not only build a nest in which to hibernate but also where he could be filmed. Florant and Prum also brought in grasses, leaves, and other materials marmots use to build nests in the wild.

Prum then recorded Baby as he assembled his first nest.

“His innate ability told him what he was supposed to do, and he went hog wild; it was the ultimate enrichment environment,” Florant said.

Prum returned again in January to record Baby’s body heat with a thermal imaging camera and as he emerged from hibernation. (Marmots and other hibernators go through natural cycles of torpor i.e., lowering body temperature to near ambient and raising it back to normal.)

She will make another trip to Fort Collins in the spring to interview Florant on camera, and film Baby and also wild marmots as they wake up from their winter naps.

But without Baby, Prum said the project would have been much harder.

“He really is the star,” she said. “He gets very inquisitive with cameras.”