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Happy Groundhog Day!

Photo by Erin Silversmith.

Happy Groundhog Day! Now that we know Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction, here are a few facts about groundhogs that you may not know.

The tradition of the meteorological rodent dates back to 1887 in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The tradition is that every February 2, groundhogs (the most famous is Punxsutawney Phil) emerge from their burrow to search for a mate. If they see their shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; conversely, if they do not see their shadow, we get lucky and spring comes early. Punxsutawney Phil is not the only prognosticator of the weather; Texas recently began looking to Bob the Armadillo for their weather and some European countries rely upon a badger or bear for predictions. While the accuracy of the groundhogs prognostication is debatable, the following are a few facts about the rodent that you might find interesting.

Groundhogs are known by a variety of names including land beaver, woodchuck, and whistlepig. Groundhogs are solitary animals but often live in relative close proximity to other groundhogs and their burrows. The name whistlepig comes from their social behavior of whistling to warn other groundhogs of danger.

Groundhog burrows can be rather elaborate, with a separate entrance and exit and a designated bathroom chamber. Burrows can be up to 30 feet in length in 4–5 feet in depth.

Photo by Susan Sam.

Groundhogs typically dig their burrow along the edge of a wood line adjacent to a good food source like a crop field, pasture, or garden. They have been known to dig their burrow under houses or barns or even in the middle of a field if cover like tall vegetation, a tree, or even an electric pole is available.

Groundhogs are true hibernators. They will eat approximately 1–1-½ pounds of food a day to build enough fat to make it through the winter. Hibernation generally starts in October after the first hard frost and extends until late February or early March. During hibernation, their heart rate and body temperature are reduced to only a fraction of normal. When groundhogs emerge in early March, they mate and have an annual litter of 4–5 (as many as 9–10) young in April.

Groundhogs are the largest member of the squirrel family. They are a short, heavy bodied animal that weighs between 5 and 10 pounds. They are typically 30% lighter when they emerge from hibernation and spend most of the summer working to replenish the weight they lost and add more if possible.

Groundhogs are skilled climbers and swimmers. Groundhogs will climb trees or fence posts to escape predators or survey the landscape, though typically not climbing higher than 6–10 feet off the ground. They have even been known to swim short distances when necessary to make their escape, but generally prefer to keep their feet dry.

Hopefully this will give you a little appreciation for the remarkable groundhog whether or not you like its weather prediction!

  • February 2nd, 2016