15 Fascinating Facts About Groundhogs | Care2 Causes
Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on February 1, 2017.
A lot of us probably don’t give much thought to groundhogs until February 2 rolls around each year, but here are some interesting facts to help you appreciate these unique critters.
According to Groundhog Day legend, their shadows can predict how much longer winter will last. No matter the outcome, it’s bad news the most famous groundhog, “Punxsutawney Phil.”
1. They’re called whistle pigs
Groundhogs are also called ground beavers, woodchucks and whistle pigs, thanks to the high-pitched warning sound they make. Incidentally, the name woodchuck has nothing to do with wood. It’s derived from the Native American word “wuchak,” which means “digger.”
2. They’re essentially giant squirrels
Groundhogs are rodents — marmots, specifically — that are very closely related to squirrels. ”They are giant ground squirrels is what they are,” Richard Thorington, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, told National Geographic.
3. They live in giant burrows with several “rooms”
Groundhogs build huge burrows for themselves that can be as long as 66 feet. These homes have multiple levels with several “rooms” and exits. “They have a burrow for hibernating, and then they have another section of the burrow that’s more like their summer home where they can come out more easily,” Stam Zervanos, a retired Pennsylvania State University biology professor, told National Geographic.
4. …including separate “bathrooms”
Just like our homes, the burrows have separate “bathrooms” in which groundhogs relieve themselves.
5. They may build multiple burrows.
It seems like a lot of work, but groundhogs may build more than one burrow. They can move around from burrow to burrow, but most stay in the same territories every year.
6. They’re climbers
Groundhogs can climb trees to escape from predators like dogs, wolves and coyotes.
7. They have good taste in food
Although they weigh less than 14 pounds, groundhogs can eat over a pound of vegetation every day. As for their diet, groundhogs are gourmets. “They’re selective,” Thorington told National Geographic. “They’ll go for your best cabbages and best foods that you have out there.”
8. Farmers aren’t major fans of groundhogs
Given the groundhog’s preferred diet, it’s no surprise that farmers aren’t the biggest fans of these critters. Not only do groundhogs eat the best of their crops, but tractors can also easily break an axle driving over their burrows.
9. Groundhogs are not social butterflies
Groundhogs prefer to be alone, and that includes moms. “The mother nurses the young, and then shortly after they’re weaned, they tend to go off on their own,” Thorington said, adding that groundhogs are “about as asocial as you can get.”
10. They greet each other with Eskimo kisses
According to Scientific American, one groundhog touches his or her nose to the mouth of the other groundhog.
11. Groundhogs hibernate from late fall until early spring
Males wake up early to check out their territory for a mate — “and there’s some competition for that territory,” Zervanos told National Geographic. “They try to defend that territory, and they go from burrow to burrow to find out if that female is still there.” Once a male finds a female he can mate with … nothing happens. He returns to his burrow and goes back to sleep for a month or so.
12. Their mating season lasts only 10 days
Groundhogs mate in early March. Thanks to their natural good timing, groundhogs are able to stop hibernating just in time to produce more groundhogs.
13. The Groundhog Day tradition originated in Europe
In Europe, other animals predicted how long winter would last. “When the Europeans came over here, they didn’t have any hedgehogs or badgers to lay the blame on, so I think the groundhog got it by being here and being a good size,” Thorington said.
14. Groundhog Day isn’t much fun for “Punxsutawney Phil”
Instead of being allowed to hibernate, the chosen groundhog is put on a display in a local library. On February 2, he’s subjected to a stressful parade and news conference.
15. A prior tragedy was fatal for a famous groundhog
During a 2014 Groundhog Day celebration in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped Chuck, a famous groundhog from the Staten Island Zoo. Chuck died from his injuries.
This seems like a really good reason to drop the use of live animals on Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania, New York and everywhere else, doesn’t it?
Photo Credit: Getty Images