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Can A Groundhog Really Predict The End Of Winter?
Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 by eNature
Groundhog range
Groundhog range
© Andreyostr

Next week brings Groundhog Day and A LOT of media attention.  We’ve received a number of inquiries about this furry, kind-of-cute rodent from readers.

Groundhogs clearly aren’t related to pigs or hogs—so what exactly are they?

The groundhog (also known as a woodchuck or Eastern Marmot) is actually a large, ground-dwelling rodent and is part of family of ground squirrels known as marmots.

Groundhogs are lowland creatures and are common in the northeastern and central United States, found as far north as eastern Alaska and south as the northern half of Alabama. (see range map to right).

If you live in the western U.S., particularly in rocky and mountainous areas, you’re probably familiar with the the groundhog’s cousins such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots. 

Can They Really Chuck Wood?
The name that many use for the animal, “woodchuck”, is derived from the Native American Algonquian tribe’s name for the animal, “wuchak”.

So despite the tounge-twister we’ve all heard (as well as that GEICO ad a year or two back!), it’s name has nothing to do with throwing around pieces of wood, even though it’s a great image….

Digging Life
These busy rodents are great diggers and hikers can often find their dens by looking for disturbed earth.  Their short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws are ideally suited for digging the extensive excavations they are known to create. 

Groundhogs have two coats of fur—a dense grey undercoat that is then covered by a longer coat of banded guard hairs, which provide its distinctive “frosted” appearance.

They are good swimmers and excellent tree climbers and can do both while escaping predators. When threatened, groundhogs generally retreat to their burrows but the animal can tenaciously defend itself or its burrow using its two large incisors and front claws.  That said, groundhogs are pretty easy prey for predators such as coyotes, foxes, bears and even large raptors.  Young groundhogs are also preyed upon by snakes.

What Do Groundhogs Eat?
Groundhogs are mostly herbivorous, consuming wild grasses and other vegetation such as berries and agricultural crops.  On occasion, they’ll also eat grubs, insects, snails and similar small animals. Groundhogs don’t need open water to drink and can hydrate themselves by consuming leafy vegetation.

Individuals often “stand alert” in an erect posture on their hind legs when not actively feeding. This is a commonly seen behavior and easily observed.

So How Can They Predict The End Of Winter?

Unlike many rodents, groundhogs are true hibernators and are rarely, if ever, active or seen during the winter.  They often build a separate “winter burrow”, which extends below the frost line and stays at a steady temperature year round, allowing the animal to avoid freezing during the winter’s cold months.

It’s this trait of sleeping through the winter that led to the folklore that a groundhog’s behavior can predict when winter will end.

Since a groundhog sleeps through the entire winter, the reasoning is that the winter must be ending if he’s willing to stay out and about once he or she has been awakened on February 2nd.

It’‘s a pretty shaky premise and the poor creature is probably so dazed from being rudely awakened that he has no idea what the temperature is.

How Accurate Are A Groundhog’s Predictions?
Groundhogs are among our longest hibernators, often settling down as early as October and remaining in their burrow until March or April.

So no matter what our furry prognosticators may appear to tell us on Groundhog Day, it’s a pretty safe bet that just want to go back to sleep, regardless of the weather!


Here at eNature’s offices in the mid-Atlantic, we often see groundhogs come spring— along roadsides, in gardens and even in city parks.  Have you encountered any? 

As always, we enjoy your stories

(24) CommentsPermalink

Comments

We love groundhog day smile
We always have a groundhog cak to celebrate!

Posted by Ann Marie Bingham on 2/2

Thank you for this very interesting info about groundhogs, but you also have to note that this date/holiday is how we in the US celebrate a very long celebrated time called Imbolc or Brigid or Candlemas in many parts of Europe (and probably beyond) - as one of the cross quarter holidays most important in Pagan traditions that mark their calendars and years by the movement of the sun and earth, it is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox!  The days are noticeably longer now, lambs are being born, plants are sprouting again and in some places, we get our first blooms of spring like crocuses and daffodils!  Even the six more weeks of winter if the proverbial groundhog sees his shadow is just because it is now just about six weeks until the Equinox and Spring will officially begin!  Thanks again and Bright Blessings to all!

Posted by rebecca on 2/2

I used to see 4 or five while driving past a local golf course.  Now that foxes have arrived the ground hogs are gone.  Their stand alert is so visible.and distinct.

Posted by julïa on 2/3

I have a groundhog that visits my bird feeders and birdbath. I discovered that he has burrowed under my house. I guess thats where it is now hibernating. How do i “encourage” him to move on when he emerges? There is also a burrow opening down from the house about 100 feet..could they be connected? I now have a dog and i don’t want any confrontations.

Posted by Elda Fountain on 2/3

we have more chucks than we want.. i have heard that they can be eaten, do you maybe have a recipe for woodchuck?

Posted by linda schulz on 2/3

groundhog predicted an early spring his year

woo hoo!

Posted by emily on 2/3

Our family lives in a rural village in Ohio, USA, and we have ground hogs that live under an old building in the back yard.  Haven’t seen them out yet this year, and with the weather in the high teens, I wouldn’t think he is coming outside on his own.  Anyway, try throwing them banana bread.  I found out they absolutely love it when I threw some out in the yard close to the house for the birds…they ventured close to the house to grab and munch.  Thanks, I enjoyed the article.

Posted by Karen on 2/3

Located in the BC interior in Canada, we have the pleasure of hosting a family of Marmots, 13 last year. We built a lovely rock wall three years ago which is now dubbed “Marmot Hotel”. wink They are delightful to watch, comical in their antics, particularly the young early in the summer. Would rather they were less prolific diggers, but guess it comes with the territory, so we’ll put up with the holes to be able to enjoy these intelligent and friendly creatures. They love apples, pears and Bananas, as well as most vegetables, but seem to relish the dandelion, clover, wild mustard and alfalfa too. Still sound asleep here though.

Posted by Jean on 2/3

There was a family of ground hogs living in the yard until we got a dog. I think the dog just wanted a playmate. The groundhog didn’t see things that way, and moved along about a month later. BTW, around here we sometimes call them whistle pigs, but I’ve never heard one whistle!

Posted by Sydney Baxter on 2/4

We live in rural Connecticut where we have many ground hogs who have made a living out of our garden.  We installed raised beds, wire fencing, and plastic netting without success. Last summer a baby GH got caught in the netting. We found him soaked and exhausted after two rainy days.  We freed him and took him to his burrow.  He recovered and repaid our kindness by learning to climb our 4 foot fence! Our attempts to trap him with a hav-a-heart trap were fruitless. In despair . . . after losing most of our garden for two years, we tried sprinkling red pepper flakes around the garden. That worked like a charm.  I highly recommend it!

Posted by Bill Weeks on 2/5

I grew up in Mississippi and now live on the coast of North Carolina. Would you believe I have never seen a groundhog except on TV? Both place I have lived have been outside their range. Is their fur soft or coarse-feeling?

Posted by Robby Osborne on 2/6

We have one groundhog living under our shed. At first all I wanted to get rid of him since I was worried about our shed at some point to be nothing but rubble. He had dog through the floor and started living in the shed. We tried hard to convince him to leave. Fixed the floor and so far he has not chewed through again, but still lives under our shed. He loves our property and at this point I have given up to frighten him away. I love watching him sitting and eating the pears, apples, plums and peaches from our fruit trees. I love watching him climb the trees. Between him, all the different birds, Bunnies and 5 deer, I have an entertainment from spring to through fall. Though sometimes I wish my creatures would leave me some fruit to at least make one plum. apple, pear, cherries, pecan or peach cake. I am lucky to if I am able to get a handful of either.

Posted by Regina M Dziak on 2/6

From northeastern Ohio—I see them in metroparks and along highways, but never as roadkill, thank goodness!Probably because they stay close to home, and have no need to cross a road.
—-
Re their native name, <<wochuck>>—- good to know, thanks! Wonder if wochuk was ever used for food or pelt…

Posted by Marina on 2/8

during our “hippie days” we bought and humanized an abandoned farm in WVa.  We were short on cash and we lived off the land.  Part of our menu was groundhog, which we soaked in baking soda and then ate in a stew or baked.  It had a gamy taste and was bony but it was free and nourishing/

Posted by charles whitman on 2/8

I remember as a child growing up in western PA, the groundhogs would always come and eat out of our gardens.  I haven’t seen one in many years.

Posted by Michelle, Colorado Springs, CO on 2/8

I live in upstate South Carolina, on the southern edge of the groundhog’s range, and it appears to me that there are more of them in this area than there used to be. Maybe their range is expanding.

Posted by Karl on 2/8

I love eNature!  Always great articles and info.  I was at the. Tanger Outlet Mall in Blowing Rock, NC, one October afternoon, and saw a groundhog foraging in a large open field next to the mall.  He saw me watching and taking his pic and he begn jumping, running and rolling in the grass, and would jump to the alert stance,  then contine"performing” for me!! It was amazing!  I remember that he was much larger than I had expected, nut also very handsome.

Posted by Cheryl on 2/8

We have been plagued with woodchucks in the past, climbing our six-foot garden fence and gobbling up everything from greens to tomatoes. It was fun to watch them sit erect on top of the well to take walnuts apart, making a neat pile of the shell parts, and eat the meat. They’re less common now, due to home construction in the neighborhood. Despite their destructive propensities, they can be cute: I watched one make its way quickly across the yard, snapping up every dandelion flower on its way!

Posted by Sharon on 2/8

We have them in north Georgia. They are cute but when they become numerous enough to become a nuisance, they do make a great stew. Exceptionally good red meat.

Posted by Donna Ford on 2/8

Last year, I discovered a groundhog burrow by stepping back along my native flower garden next to my house and air conditioner unit, and I fell into the burrow entrance.  The shaft reaches four feet below ground.  It took me a few minutes to crawl up out of the burrow.  My husband and I filled in the entrance with 40 lbs. of clay-based garden soil, but the groundhog dug the entrance again in two days!  We tried human and dog hair sprinkled in the entrance to no avail.  His exit is in the tree line at the end of our back yard, so we don’t bother that hole.

We plan to put a sheet of chain link fence or heavy duty screen across his entrance by our house to encourage “Bucky” to dig another front door near the tree line or by the rock pile for wildlife cover.

Posted by Linda on 2/8

Woodchucks are very common here in Connecticut. They often live along the sides of highways and in the median divider where there’s plenty of grass and few angry farmers. Unfortunately, that makes them very common roadkills. Farmers can’t stand them. Although they are cute and interesting to watch, they are terrible farm and garden pests- eating flowers, vegetables, fruits and other crops. Livestock, especially horses, can break their legs stepping in a woodchuck burrow. If you know of a place to release them where they won’t become a problem to someone else, you can catch them in a live trap baited with fresh broccoli. Put the trap very close to the burrow and put the broccoli stalk in a can of water so it stays fresh.

Posted by Linda on 2/9

Since moving to Arizona I haven’t seen any more groundhogs.  They were all over the place in Maryland!  Out here we have “ground squirrels” that dig and burrow everywhere.

Posted by Judy Hippert on 2/9

I have lived in Dover, DE for the last 37 years and have enjoyed seeing the groundhogs in the area as they move around the fields with their young. There are numerous groundhogs that live and play in the field between Delaware State University and the Agricultural Museum. Twice a year,(in the late spring and early fall)Dover Downs hosts Nascar races, and the fans use these same fields for campgrounds for about a week. I have always been curious where these amusing and cute little creatures go when their habitat is temporarily occupied by humans. It is very interesting to see them move around the fields with their young.

Posted by Donna Scovil on 2/9

Maine’s woodchuck’s are abundant as predators are disappearing. I work hard to keep them out of our gardens. Along with constant vigilance two other things have helped. One is “used” cat litter,less pooh. Our cats contribute. I put cheap plant saucers around the garden and near woodchuck faves. The urine smell works, so I don’t care if I smell it. Freshen it every few days. Rain makes it messy to clean, but worth it. We have a fence along our veggie garden bordering field & forest. I took rolls of black landscape fabric, ran it along the fence,so from the ground up it was 3 feet.I secured it with landscape pins below and clothes pins/staples into the fence-whatever works.The theory behind it is if the woodchuck can’t see it they won’t come after it.Sounds silly, but it greatly helped! Kept them from working their way under the fence,as they always did before.Just some hints that might work for others- anything is worth a try!And indoor cat owners would always be glad to share!

Posted by Maggie on 2/9

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