Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday Thirteen 318: Groundhogs

As I'm sure many are aware, Sunday is not only Super Bowl Sunday, but also Groundhog Day. I don't know if cute, furry rodents are any better at predicting the outcome of football games than they are the weather, but here are a few facts about groundhogs nonetheless. All photos were taken by me, May 2013, during one of my walks. This was the first time I had seen one close-up in the wild (he was maybe six feet away from me, if that).

1. The groundhog (Marmota monax), is a rodent also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver. It is a member of the Sciurida family.

2. The groundhog is a lowland animal found throughout North America. Though most common in the northeastern and central United States, they are found as far north as Alaska, extending southeast to Georgia.

3. The groundhog is the largest rodent in its geographical range, typically measuring 16 to 26 in long (including a 6 in tail) and weighing 4 to 9 lb. In areas with fewer natural predators and large amounts of alfalfa, groundhogs can grow to 30 in and 31 lb.

4. Groundhogs have short but powerful limbs and curved, thick claws adapted for digging. Unlike other sciurids, they have a curved spine similar to that of a mole, and the tail is only about one-fourth of body length.

5. Groundhogs have two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guard hairs that gives the groundhog its distinctive "frosted" appearance.

6. In the wild, groundhogs can live up to six years, with two or three being average. In captivity, groundhogs are reported to live from 9–14 years. They are mostly diurnal.

7. Common predators for groundhogs include wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, large hawks, and dogs. Young groundhogs are often at risk for predation by snakes, which easily enter the burrow.

8. Primary food source: wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops. They also eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails and — though not as omnivorous as other species of Sciurida — other small animals. Like squirrels, they may also eat nuts such as shagbark hickory, but do not bury them for future use. Rather than drinking from a water source as most animals do, groundhogs hydrate through eating leafy plants.

Yes, he looked right at me! *g*

9. Groundhogs are exceptional burrowers, moving approximately 35 cubic feet, or 5,500 pounds, of soil when digging a burrow, which is used for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating. Although generally solitary, several individuals may occupy the same burrow.

10. Groundhog burrows usually have two to five entrances, providing alternate means of escape from predators. Burrows are quite large, with up to 46 ft of tunnels buried up to 5 ft underground, which can pose serious threats to agricultural and residential developments by damaging farm machinery, underground lines, and even undermining building foundations.

11. Groundhogs are one of few species that enter into true hibernation. A separate "winter burrow" is often dug below the frost line for this purpose. Such a depth keeps the burrow at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. They generally hibernate from October to March or April, but in more temperate areas, may hibernate as little as 3 months. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation, and emerge with a little remaining body fat to live on until the warmer spring weather produces enough plant materials for food.

12. Groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and excellent tree climbers when escaping predators or when they want to survey their surroundings. They prefer to retreat to their burrows when threatened; if invaded, the groundhog tenaciously defends itself with its two large incisors and front claws. Groundhogs can be aggressive and territorial among their own species, skirmishing to establish dominance.

13. Groundhogs typically breed in their second year, after hibernation. The breeding season extends from early March to mid- or late April, producing one litter annually. Two to six blind, hairless and helpless young make up a litter. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 31–32 day gestation period, with the male leaving shortly before the birth of the young in April or May. The young are weaned and ready to find their own dens at 5 to 6 weeks of age.


* Do you remember this tongue twister?:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

* You can read the Robert Frost poem, "A Drumlin Woodchuck," here. Frost uses the imagery of a woodchuck dug in to a small ridge as a metaphor for his emotional reticence.

Be sure to stop by Sunday to find out whether our local weather prognosticator, Jimmy the Groundhog, predicts an early or late spring.

LINKING TO: Thursday Thirteen


Kimberly Menozzi said...

I can't help it.



Alice Audrey said...

I forgot Groundhog Day was coming up soon. Looks like you've got your very own. I don't know why I was thinking groundhogs were a lot bigger than woodchucks. *shrug*

Heather said...

Kimberly: I know, isn't that the cutest face? I never did see him again, though I'm sure he was there, watching. *G*

Heather said...

Alice: Nope, same animal -- though they are a lot bigger than a gopher.

CountryDew said...

We have a ground hog that lives under the shed. Apparently it never dies no matter how many times my husband shoots it with a gun and then removes the body. It shows up again shortly thereafter. Maybe they have nine lives like a cat.

Heather said...

Anita: You must have quite a burrow under your shed, maybe even a couple families of groundhogs. Where there is one, there are bound to be more. ;)

Anonymous said...

OMG! SO adorable!! I love groundhogs. Thanks for the smile today, Heather. I hope you're having a great Thursday.

Dena Celeste said...

Oh my goodness, that groundhog is SO CUTE!!!! I love groundhogs. The face is just priceless. And so many interesting facts about them. *grins*

Heather said...

Stephanie: Isn't he adorable? I'm glad he made you smile! *VBG*

Heather said...

Dena: Don't they have the cutest faces? Glad you enjoyed the pics and facts. *G*

Paige Tyler said...

So cute! Love groundhogs! I even have a plush one!


My TT is at

Heather said...

Thanks, Paige -- I don't know that I've ever seen a stuffed one.

Shelley Munro said...

They have cute faces. I didn't know they could climb. Hopefully they'll predict an early spring for you.

Heather said...

Shelley: Climbing ability was one of the new facts I learned about them in researching this. Who knew, right?

Jana said...

How cool is that?! Love! You've had some pretty awesome luck with wildlife. :-D

Heather said...

Jana: I do, don't I? If only I could get a pic of those silly turkeys in the snow . . .