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How Can A Groundhog Predict The End Of Winter?
Posted on Wednesday, February 01, 2012 by eNature
Groundhog range
Groundhog range
© Andreyostr

It’s Groundhog Day and the furry, kind-of-cute groundhog is in the news.

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 those GEICO ads!), 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



We had a blizzard in 1978 in Indiana.  As the frost line freeze deepened, our local groundhog was awakened.  You should have seen him trying not to touch the snow covered ground while walking.  A sorrier sight I have never seen. His tail was straight behind him and his legs were hopping.

Posted by Linda on 2/1

I enjoyed this article…

Posted by Eddie C. on 2/1

Weather has been warm in Ohio with very little snow this year.  I saw a groundhog out of his burrow this week.  Even the flower bulbs are coming up already.

Posted by Janice on 2/1

I live in PA very mild winter..almost 60 degrees today. We have a groundhog living under our back deck. Waiting for her to poke her nose out. Last spring she surprised us with 4 babies. She took them away one day. She returned but the babies didn’t. It was time for them to be out on their own.

Posted by dfisher on 2/1

Please see my recent blog entry on the meaning of groundhog day at:

Posted by The meaning of groundhog day on 2/1

You didn’t comment how they ate those agriculture crops.  When you see corn which is mashed down and the ears eaten on the ground you can bet it is a ground hog.  a Racoon on the other hand will stand up, bend the ear down and eat it hanging upside down.  I have hunted, been around ground hogs all my life,  70 now,  I have never seen one climb.  They will also scamper to their holes.  Local hunters said a ground hog can dig faster than a dog. old timers would collect boxed turtles, not nice, but would poor Kerosene on the turtle at the edge of the hole.  The ground hog would generally come out the other hole to get away from the fire.  There is always an escape hole.

Posted by Sherman on 2/1

‘The meaning of groundhog day’ you got the whole thing right ...

....“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again”....

I love the Movie ... it highlights the meaning of live .... the golden rule ....
later brother

Posted by Tommy D' on 2/1

February 2nd or Candlemas is exactly half way between winter solstice and vernal equinox which is approximately 6 weeks. So whether the ground hog sees his shadow or not there will be 6 weeks of winter left according to the calendar. It has nothing to do with the weather.

Posted by Brian Bielefeld on 2/1

I saw a groundhog running across a lawn a week ago. Thats January here in PA. I guess he didnt get copied on the hibernation email.

Posted by Jim on 2/1

We have been farmers for 50 years.  My husband hates groundhogs because of the damage they cause to corn cribs and other out buildings by digging under the foundation. They literally undermine and destroy not only property and crops, but buildings, culverts, and waterways. Ground Hogs don’t want to be in suburbs and farmsteads—they want the freedom that wilderness gives and there just isn’t much of that left.

Posted by Karen on 2/1

As I followed the progress of a groundhog across my back yard, it disappeared behind a large tree trunk, but never came out from behind the trunk. 
    I quickly went outside to see where the “G” hog went.  I couldn’t find it, but felt a though I was being watched.  I don’t know why, but I looked up the tree before I gave up my search. 
    Sure enough, there it was about fifteen feet from the ground.  Apparently, it climbed up just for a look around since there was nothing around to frighten it into climbing the tree.

Posted by Alan W. Reed on 2/1

I live in Northern New Jersey, several dens of groundhogs exist in my backyard. I enjoy watching them and taking photos of their actions. A couple of years ago I was privy to a fight between an alpha male and a juvenile where the former was able to kill the latter with repeated blows of its incisives . I have a series of photos to document this incident. Most surprising to me was the fearless attitude of the alpha male towards my presence and its perseverance to drag the kill to the den regardless of how close i was.

Posted by Rachid H on 2/2

Having a ground hog family living in my yard here in Massachusetts for years now- I’ve learned to cohabitate with them- even though I do grow a good sized vegetable garden and enjoy my flowers. They are really quite fun to watch- especially the young ones at play.  I plant wildflowers that are meant to be eaten by wildlife on the back end of my yard- and keep “my” gardens closer to the house- and they primarily obey the rules smile  I did put a battery operated single wire electric fence around my vegetable garden about 8” off the ground- a few years back- and this seems to deter the foolish ones who think they want my food!  And it truly doesn’t “hurt” them- just startles them a bit.  Also another name they are called is “whistle pigs”- as on very rare occassions (I’ve only heard one do it once)- but if cornered - they let out an absolutely ear piercing whistle that makes you jump back and say “what the heck?”- the one time they did this to me- I ran- not knowing what on earth was in my yard (as I didn’t see the one hiding out there at the time!)-  then I got brave and started towards the area the noise came from- and he/she did it again!  I did this repeatedly- never getting too close as at time did not know what was there- finally I retreated to the deck and sat very quietly to see if anything came out of hiding- and sure enough- one of the groundhogs came out- followed by her very young babies!  Evidently was an early adventure for them- first outing- and I distrubed it accidently!  No wonder he/she whistled to scare me away.  Just want folks to know- we CAN cohabitate with groundhogs and most of God’s creatures- it’s all in just compromising with them- providing them their space- and respecting it.

Posted by June C on 2/2

Poor little critters will be so confused this year. How does anyone know about 6 weeks more or less of winter weather. We have not had any winter yet. maybe they could flip a coin.

Posted by Mary R on 2/2

Late last Autumn, my little mostly-Irish-Terrier, while on our morning ramble through the hay field and woods I have, treed a large Groundhog….when I got to where they were, the groundhog was resting calmly on a horizontal branch and looked like a version of The Cheshire Cat! Looking closely at it with binoculars I could appreciate what big CLAWS they have!


Groundhogs lived under my porch and tunneled under my driveway for several years.  Groundhog parents will whistle the young ones back to the hole when they perceive danger.  They are very dedicated parents.  My German Shephard mix managed to lay a Groundhog on its back but quickly released it after a couple of skin breaking swipes across the throat. In the fall, we would see the Groundhop climb the pole holding the bird feeder and feast on sunflower seeds. They aslo enjoyed fallen pears. The only complaint I had with these woodland friends was their habit of digging through my outdoor lighting cords.  Haven’t seen one in the neighborhood for at least 5 years.  That might be explained by the appearance of red fox.

Posted by Susan Davidson on 2/2

On my way to my mail box, I witnesed a fight between two large G. Hogs.  I was tempted to break up the fight with my foot since the creatures were oblivious to my presence.  However, I remembered my father’s friend who lost a toe to a ground hog when it bit through his heavy boot as he tried to prevent it from going into its hole with his foot. 
    I later realized that the fight was probably over mulberries that fell from a nearby tree in my yard.  Many creatures benefit from the delicious, sweet fruits that fall from this tree each summer.

Posted by A. W. Reed on 2/2

i live in NE Montana and we haven’t had winter yet.  Actually, we’re still waiting for it because we need the snow for spring moisture.  It’ll be a bad summer for crops if we don’t get it.  Also the heat.  It’s been way to warm this winter (something i’ve never seen before) and if it continues i hate to see what the heat will be come summer.  The groundhogs must already be totally confused.

Posted by sandi on 2/2

groundhogs can definetely climb . Ive seen one in a tree that suprised the heck out of me . they usually prefer trees that arent straight up and are kinda sloping ( I guess they are easier to climb )

Ive also seem them in the water too. so I guess they can swim . with the floods we had here in eastern PA. last summer I bet they all got flooded out of their dens.

I used to hunt them to keep them in check at a farm ( the farmer was too glad to see me ) and if I saw one that I couldnt get a good shot at I just whistled real loud and they would stand straight up and then you had a much better shot.

a far as box turtles. I havent seen one in awhile but my friend who turkey hunts said he saw about 5 of them last spring in his gun clubs area. but the one I havent seen in years is what my dad used to call Terrapins…  he said people used to eat them like you would a snapper turtle. Im sure they are protected now but, I used to see them as a youth back in the 70’s and 80’s but havent seen one since. they like semi swampy areas if I remember right. and get pretty big. and they are really colorful. they prolly dont have anywhere to live anymore either. all the swamps are getting filled in. I used to find them while fishing for trout in mt.streams when I was younger. sometimes they were in the water too.

Posted by tom mengle on 2/2

I truly enjoyed all the stories of encounters with ground hogs, and have never experienced an encounter myself, but I own a guinea pig and he doesn’t hibernate, but he does squeal, when he’s begging, or is afraid of the hawks hovering overhead.

I know that they are of a different species, (g. pigs are cavys), but they are furry and cute, as are the ground hogs. It’s amazing how they are associated with pigs and hogs, though.

Have a great day;)

Posted by Veronica Gaines-Lilly on 2/2

After reading all of the above I found that noone mentioned their odor. I am a wildlife rehabber and enjoy the little “chucks” very much. Usually I will only have one or two at a time to raise to release, but once I had five.  An old farmer in my area told me that when he was a kid, when walking in the woods, he would run into the smell of chicken soup. By tracking it down he found the opening of a woodchuk den.  When I had the five babies, I guess because of having so many in one spot, I could definitely smell the “chicken soup when I clened and fed them. They are a delight to be around. I put tree limbs in their cage and they do climb them. And the whistle!  I had one that always had to be fed first or he would whistle till I got to him. That’s why the farmers called them whistle pigs.

Posted by Julie on 2/2

To the Editor:
Please delete NAVYYasa 2/2.  It is an ad for printer cartridges.

As for the comments in general:  I learned a ton on this one, and I thought I knew a thing or two about groundhogs.  We have tons of them up here;  I see them on the roadsides all the time while I’m driving.  As for predicting the weather, I just always thought that the lore was saying that a bright sunny day on 2/2 would likely be followed by 6 more weeks of cold, blizzardy weather, as opposed to cold, raw, wet harbingers of Spring.  Candlemas?  How cool!

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 2/2

Hello from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, where Jimmy the Groundhog has a much better Winter Prognostication Rating than PA Phil!

He asks that you please do not include any more instances of horrific animal cruelty like the kerosened turtles.  It just hurts to read them.

Thanks and Happy End of Winter…

Posted by Marianne Jackson on 2/2

If you’re going to delete the turtle cruelty ones, why not delete the hunter one who whistled to make the ground hog stand up so he could have a better shot?  Can we not discuss the extermination of wolves because of the horrendous ways they were killed?  Does anyone remember how Smerdyakov (the evil Karamazov) wrapped a burning ember in a piece of meat and threw it to a starving dog just so he could watch it die in agony?  Shall we ban Dostoyevsky?  We cannot learn from our past cruelties if we close our eyes and refuse to watch.

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 2/2

Hi Barbara;

I agree with you, 100%: we must learn how to take care of the things that have been placed in our charge, including other people. It’ sad to know that people can be so very cruel.

Posted by Veronica Gaines-Lilly on 2/2

WE live in the country and had horses and cattle for years, hated those groundhogs.  They will dig in the fields and the animals can break their legs stepping into their holes.  We did get coyotes brought in by the DNR and they controlled them, but now they hunt the coyotes, so the Groundhogs are making a big comeback.  Not an animal to love for sure.

Posted by buck on 2/2

Dear Buck, 
        The only animal “not to love for sure”  is a human. They kill for no reason, for fun, and just to be cruel. They are filthy and leave their dirt and excrement everywhere on earth, even in the oceans and waterways, they pollute the air and the land with chemicals that kill and deform, they even kill their young for wars and not wanting them.  Change your mind?

Posted by Idajane Dalpino on 2/2

Since I live in California, I’ve never seen a groundhog, but I’m wondering if gophers fill a similar niche?

Posted by Diane Harper on 2/2

One thing not mentioned in the article which also explains the legend and most people don’t know this, is that Male Woodchucks (I live in WNY and that’s ALL we call them) will come out of their burrows earlier than the females and go around and visit all the near by females for a couple of days for a “snugglefest” that way when spring comes both the males and females have a pretty good idea who they want to mate with.  Call it a “first date”.

Posted by Ben on 2/3

Im sorry if I offended anyone with saying how I used to shoot them when they stood up after a loud whistle at my friends farm . but…. most people who are farmers and in agriculture dont have alot of love for these mean , nuisance mammals. they do tear up corn fields and dig big holes that can flip a tractor or have a horse or cow break its leg in the fields and pastures. and to be honest I see alot more animals adapting living closer to man that before. they havent much to eat out in the woods anymore and most fields have become developments for housing. so if you feed them or let them live under your place your only asking for trouble. they have parasites and can be very vicious.

so yes people are finding them under their porches and barns and corn cribs. its easier for them to get into gardens and eat bulbs and corn cribs too at nice piles of corn thats easy pickings . they also love grass… so, a nice green lawn will have alot of them around houses. but be wary they are very territorial and if you try to grab one or reach into their nest you will get an ugly bite. their fighters. Many different animals also sometimes use their old holes or even share them with them during hibernation time. like skunks, opposums and rabbits.

We also had a female daschund that was from Texas that one day as a kid I discovered she would disapear out of the yard and head for the grass field adjoining the railroad tracks with a bank full of Groundhog holes.

To my suprise I was out looking for her one day after I watched where she was going to and I saw her backing out of a groundhog hole all covered in dirt. I laughed and said “What are you doing down in there ??” Daschunds were origianlly bred to hunt badgers in Germany I beleive and since they are a member of the hound family ( this one was a pure bred with papers ) they have a natural instinct to go into holes looking for animals. they also have claws made for digging just like a badger or G.H.
I know they use terriers to hunt fox also. they will go down into a fox hole the same way. they will either take on the fox or drive it out its exit hole . To some this is barbaric but its a plain fact.

  this Little Daschund (Tina)was my 1st pet dog ever and wow… were we amazed that it went down into groundhog holes…lol… after a while we learned to just go to the bank along the field and would call her until we found her or she came out one of the holes. I loved that dog alot. it was actually my sisters but we all took it in as the family pet and it would sit at the table and beg for food by sitting on its butt and hind legs and waving its front legs up and down. I know this has little to with G.Hogs predicting the weather but Gound Hogs or WoodChucks whatever you call them can be a handful if the happen to prefer your suburbia rather than the forest .

I also live about 1 1/2 hrs. drive from Punxatawney Pa. where Phil the groundhog “lives” in his tree trunk (manmade”)on Gobblers knob in Punxatawney and he is on TV every year at daybreak and they pick the fat old guy up and ask him into hs ear did you see your shadow ?? its obviously not the same G.Hog that they use every year but there is a club his owners belong to and big party there with cameras flashing and tv cameras too. its on all the Local stations here in South Eastern PA. Alot of people think thats cruel too . but its really tame and they just put it back into its tree after the ceremony. 

so Im sorry if offended anyone but you will find alot of people dont like them. I dont hunt them anymore but know people who do and down south and even up here they are eaten by some people just like oppussums are eaten down south.

I didnt hunt them just to kill and let them lay either . We had a use for them that was very effective for something else Im not going to say what as Ill get another 28 replies to my comment.

in PA.  groundhog is considered a game animal with an almost open season year round ( except ) the breeding months . or at least thats how it was in my younger days. Your not allowed to kill them for no reason and will be fined and penalized by the Game Commission . if you have ones in your yard you want to get rid of here in town you must get a special permit to catch them or have an animal control officer from your township or boro catch them to be released elsewhere.

Im sorry if I offended anyone.

Posted by tom mengle on 2/4

To Tom Mengle
Thanks for taking the time to explain all the reasons for considering groundhogs to be vermin.  I am an animal lover and there are two things I kill without remorse:  House mice, which I am plagued with here in Northern NY (I remove them from the traps and feed them to my chocolate lab.  She loves the sudden treats!), and cockroaches, which I used to poison, step on or otherwise battle when I lived in places that have them.  There are none up here.  I used to be an Organic Vegetable Grower, but there was one plant I would use an herbicide on: Poison Ivy.  None of that here either.  I have also sprayed wasps that had built huge hanging balls too close to the house.  I knew to avoid angering them, but I was worried about my grandchildren.  Before I moved up here I also had to call exterminators more than once to rid my house of termites.  But I have also learned how to live with destructive critters by taking a little extra thought or trouble.  Ants in the house?  Try pouring a little honey in a trail that leads away from the house.  Porcupines were eating my siding and my porch.  Someone told me I could put salt cakes out in the woods for them, plus I painted my siding and porch where they were eating with used motor oil.  As for groundhogs, I have had some depredations from them, but mostly I just let the dogs chase them away.  They’ve only caught one once.  I do find holes when I mow my grass—my lawn is very big.  But I can’t see the holes from a distance, and I don’t have cows or horses that can be injured.  Farmers around here poison them.  But that is shortsighted, as sometimes their dogs eat the sick ones and die too.  Plus you get poisoned birds, coydogs and whatnot turning up all over the place.
If people think a little they will reasize that keeping the “natural world” at bay is a problem we all live with from birth to death.  As soon as your body dies it starts to rot.  That is the result of stopping the constant battle of defending yourself against the natural world.  Picking and choosing which creatures are “good” and which are “bad” is a matter of taste, not really rooted in reality.
Anyhow, thanks for your time.

Posted by Barbara Bernhardt on 2/4

I got up close to a groundhog whose sight, hearing, or both must have been going.  It was sitting right by the nature path I was walking on and I froze when I saw it so as not to scare it away.  But as I slowly walked toward it, it did not react at all.  I ended up standing and then kneeling right next to it before it finally knew I was there and took off.

Posted by Gordon Engel on 2/4

I really wanted spring to come but the groundhog saw his shadow.Winter has a lot of fun like snowmen, snowballs and igloos (I like the igloo part).  Spring has SUN!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Nathan 9 on 2/6

I live in NW Ga. There is a family of groundhogs that live in an open field that we pass on the way to church. We have named them Sunday since it is usually Sunday morning when we see them. I would like to attract some to my yard.

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Posted by Laura on 3/31
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