Meet Mr. Groundhog

Hallo!  I'm a real groundhog.  I am also known as a woodchuck which is an anglicized corruption of the Indian name for my species 'Wojak'. My scientific name is Marmota monax and I belong to the Squirrel Family.  The origin of my other name, groundhog lies in my squat appearance, waddling gait and habit of living in the ground. By the way, I want the record straight now.  I have been known to chew on bits of wood, but I do not cut down trees or move timber.  My friend the beaver does that--not me!   Some people think that I am worthless because I like to dig tunnels.  A lot of my animal friends like Skunks, foxes, weasels, opossums and rabbits really appreciate me because they use my abandoned tunnels as their homes.

I don't have a cushy life like Punxsutawney Phil that forecasts the weather on Feb. 2.  He lives in an electrically heated burrow.  I don't!  I make my burrow down in the ground fairly deep--at least below the frost line so I can stay warmer.  I also make me a nice warm bed of leaves and hay. When I go to sleep nothing happens in my burrow all winter!  I hibernate or sleep.  That means my body temperature can go as low as 39-40 degrees and I live off my fat.

The way I get my wake up call is still a mystery to scientists but they have some really good guesses!  My internal clock is believed to be affected by changes in the amount of daylight.  This causes my body to produce a hormone (or a chemical) which helps me to wake up.  I don't know why humans make such a big deal over "Phil" because I start waking up the following week anyway!   I guess I should really be proud because the humans are always looking to groundhogs for the first signs of spring!

After I finally come out of my burrow, I am really starved!  I like to eat succulent green plants, such as clover, dandelion greens, plantain, and grasses.  I am a complete Vegetarian. Sometimes I even eat vegetables out of a nearby garden. Peas, beans and corn are my favorite.  Occasionally I might climb trees to obtain apples and pawpaws which I relish. During the summer, I put on as much weight as possible and I am soooooo fat in August that it makes me tired and I start preparing for hibernation for sometime in after the leaves have fallen off the trees and the  temperature gets really chilly. By the end of October, I am curled up in profound sleep in my underground nest. So deep is my sleep that even if you warm me up, it will take me several hours to awaken.

I can weigh between 4-14 pounds (1.8-6.3 kg), being lightest in spring when I am just out of hibernation and heaviest in fall prior to hibernation. If I didn't eat and get really fat before the fall, I might not survive the winter as I lose half my weight during winter.  No wonder I wake up really, really hungry. I am quite short, and me and my friends length varies from 16-27 inches (406-685 mm). I have powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy, and somewhat flattened tail. 

I'd like to tell you a little bit about my fur.  The long, coarse fur of my back is a grizzled grayish brown with a yellowish to reddish cast. Fortunately for me humans do not consider my fur as fashionable!  They do not think it is particularly thick and warm but it is on me!  The grey-brown appearance is much more appealing to my friends and besides, I look so much better in it than a human would!

I prefer to live along the edges where timbered areas are bordered by open land or along fence rows and heavily vegetated gullies or stream banks. Here I dig my burrows. The main entrance to which I often position beneath a tree stump or rock and is usually conspicuous because of a pile of freshly excavated earth and stones. I also make side entrances which are smaller and better concealed. Normally tunnels in my burrow will lead to an enlarged chamber, 3-6 feet (.9-1.8 m) underground, which contains my nest.

While digging, I normally use my front feet and claws, but I also use my teeth to move stones or cut roots. I dig so rapidly, that I can finish a small burrow in one day, though upkeep is continuous as long as I occupy it.

Ever hear this?  How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?  I can give you the answer to that!  About 700 pounds!  A wildlife biologist once measured the inside volume of a typical woodchuck/groundhog burrow.  He estimated that if wood filled the hole instead of dirt, I would have chucked about 700 pounds worth!  That should show you that I'm staying quiet busy doing things other than just eating. As I move tremendous quantities of subsoil in the course of burrow construction, me and my friends contribute much to the aeration and mixing of the soil. 

My relatives (other groundhogs)  can be found in North America.  Some of my relatives live in Canada, as well as the eastern United States!   I have a life span of 4 to 6 years in the wild and have been known to live up to 10 - 18 years in a zoo.  Enough of this!  I'd better get back to sleep.  After all, I wouldn't want to take any glory from Phil and his big day!

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