Every year on 2nd February, Groundhog Day is celebrated in the U.S as a unique celebration in which people recognize Groundhogs and turn towards them to predict the weather as it is popularly believed that these creatures emerge out of their hibernation around this time and if they see their shadow, winter lasts for six more weeks.
Ever wondered what these Groundhogs are? Groundhog (Marmota monax) is also known as woodchuck and is a rodent of the Sciuridae family that belongs to the group of large ground squirrels called marmots and are therefore closely related to squirrels.
Classified as a species of least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, Groundhogs are found primarily in the Central and Eastern United States and in some parts of Canada and Alaska.
These are lowland creatures that can not only dig deep and make extraordinary burrow systems but can also tend to be excellent swimmers and climbers.
Although they are criticized for their destructive behaviors, they play an important role in maintaining healthy soil and are considered as a crucial ‘habitat engineer’.
Let’s discover and learn about some of the fascinating and distinctive characteristics as well as facts relating to these adorable little creatures.
17 Interesting Facts About Groundhogs
This article tries to discover some interesting facts concerning the Groundhog’s life, lifespan, characteristic features, eating habits, hibernation, and differences with that of other creatures such as prairie dog, cat, hedgehog, muskrat, nutria and gopher.
1. Why are Groundhogs called Groundhogs?
The term Groundhog is a compound noun formed out of the two nouns ‘ground’ and ‘hog’ – another word for a pig. Thus, the literal meaning of Groundhog, a pig-like creature that lives in the ground, appropriately implies its usage.
Groundhogs are called by a wide range of names including woodchuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistle pig, whistler, thick wood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk, land beaver, and, siffleux amongst the French Canadians in eastern Canada.
2. How long do Groundhogs live?
The average lifespan of Groundhogs usually varies between 3-4 years, where they can survive for a maximum period of 6 years if they are able to avert certain life-threatening creatures and the environment in the wild.
However, Groundhogs are known to survive for a longer period of time in captivity than in the wild, reportedly up to 14 years on average.
Out of the dangers of the man-made incidents of pest control and road-kills, and threats posed by their predators such as Coyotes, Badgers, Foxes and even Dogs, Groundhogs tend to survive for a longer period in captivity than in the wild.
3. What do Groundhogs Eat?
The Groundhog’s diet is primarily herbivorous, basically relying on typical garden crops and sometimes feeding on insects and worms.
Food items that attract Groundhogs include Greens like lettuce, clovers, dandelions, red mulberry and hackberry leaves, trees – specifically the bark and twigs – like black cherry and dogwood, Vegetation like carrots, celery, corn, peas, and beans, Fruits like berries, cherries and apples, and Insects like June bugs, snails and grasshoppers.
What does baby Groundhogs Eat?
Baby Groundhogs are completely dependent on their mother for a period of 4-6 weeks after their birth and at this time they primarily feed on their mother’s milk.
When the babies are weaned at around 6 weeks, they start to consume a diet that consists of grasses and vegetables. Some additional foods such as fruits, small insects and nuts are added to the diet as they grow and venture outside.
4. What do Groundhogs not like to Eat?
Being Herbivorous by nature, Groundhogs tend to eat plants and plant products as their major portion of the diet and therefore are generally held responsible for spoiling and destroying people’s farms and gardens.
Even though they rely primarily on plants for their foods, they are believed to avoid some plants and plant-related products that are recognized as their least favorite food items.
These items include Annuals and Tender bulbs like Ageratum, Dahlia, and Snapdragon; Perennials and Hardy bulbs like Butterfly weed, Daffodil, and Anemone; Herbs like Lavender, Rosemary, and Chives; Vegetables like Potato, Onion, Garlic, and Pumpkin; and some rare trees and shrubs.
However, the reliance on these food items depends on the environment, geographical location and individual Groundhogs.
5. How to tell how old a Groundhog is?
The age of Groundhogs are generally known and predicted by their basic body weight, characteristics, features and their capabilities of eating and performing tasks.
A Groundhog is born with no fur, wrinkled skin and closed eyes weighing around 30g. Its skin starts to become pigmented by the first week, by the second-week fur starts to grow all over the body and by the third week, a Groundhog is fully furred and capable of crawling.
From the fourth week, the Groundhog becomes more active and opens its eyes for the first time. Between the sixth and eighth week the Groundhog is weaned and ready to walk on feet weighing around 1000g.
It takes a Groundhog 1-2 years to fully grow and then they start to breed once they are capable of living alone in the wild.
6. Where do Groundhogs Sleep?
Groundhogs generally sleep deep inside their extraordinarily engineered and uniquely constructed burrows or dens.
Groundhogs are well appreciated and are often designated as excellent ‘underground architects’ for constructing unique underground burrows to live in.
These burrows protect them from their predators, serve as places to breed and are a location for them to hibernate. Groundhog burrows generally consist of one main entry point and up to four exits.
Their burrows may be located near trees, walls or fences having an opening between 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Therefore, burrows are their mainstay for both short and long-term living, that is, both night stay and hibernation.
7. Do Groundhogs Bite?
Yes, Groundhogs can bite people if they were getting trapped, frightened or are trying to escape.
Although Groundhogs can bite, they tend to be very non-aggressive creatures that seldom bite. Groundhog bites are therefore not a general cause of worry for humans.
However, like any other wild animal, Groundhogs can definitely bite if it is cornered, provoked or startled. Inevitably they bite when they find people scary or a threat to their lives.
8. What do Groundhogs do when they are Scared?
Groundhogs generally make a high-pitched whistling sound when they are scared or are threatened by their predators.
Groundhogs are called by a wide variety of names such as chuck, woodchuck, wood-shock, ground pig, thick wood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, red monk, land beaver, etc.
Amongst them, the name ‘whistle-pig’, predominantly used in Appalachia, roots out from the Groundhog’s habit of making a high-pitched whistling sound as a warning to other Groundhogs usually when they feel threatened by their predators or are scared of dangers.
9. How many Groundhogs live in a Den?
A maximum of five to eight Groundhogs, including their pups, can live in a particular den.
Groundhogs are predominantly solitary individuals who prefer to stay alone except for their mating and breeding season. However, they can also become social and make close-knit bondings and live together in a burrow.
Usually, a Groundhog social group comprises an adult male along with two adult females, where each of them has offspring from their previous breeding season as well as the current babies.
10. What do Groundhogs do in the Winter?
During the winters, Groundhogs remain mostly inactive and usually are known to hibernate for several months ranging between October to early February, depending upon their geographical location and environment.
Throughout the winter, Groundhogs remain confined to their winter burrows where they ‘truly hibernate’ and utilize the fats generated from the food items that they ate during the summertime to supplement their nutritional requirements.
The time frame of their hibernation totally depends on their geographical location and they usually emerge from their hibernation marking the beginning of their mating period.
11. When does a Groundhog Hibernate?
Groundhogs usually hibernate during the winter months predominantly from mid-October to early February.
During their hibernation, Groundhogs tend to live in the underground ‘winter burrow’ that they dig especially for this purpose.
They are one of the few species that enters into a ‘true hibernation’ dropping their heart rates and body temperatures significantly.
Their hibernating process is a several month long procedure that mainly depends on their geographical location. The males emerge out of their hibernation first and join females in the burrow that marks the beginning of their mating season.
12. Groundhog Vs Prairie Dog
Groundhogs and Prairie dogs are both members of the same squirrel family, Sciuridae and therefore share many traits and habits, such as they both are excellent borrowers, feed on plants and seeds, and spend most of their winters hibernating.
But at the same time, they are easily differentiated because of their distinctive characteristics and features, especially their appearance.
Groundhogs are generally grizzled brown in colour but can also be black or white. They are usually 16-25 inches long including their short bushy tail and weigh 4.5-9 pounds on an average, and therefore are one of the larger creatures in the Sciuridae family.
However, Prairie Dogs are generally about the size of a rabbit and much smaller compared to Groundhogs, weighing around 2-4 pounds and measuring about 12-15 inches long.
Despite their physical differences, they tend to be characteristically different too. Groundhogs have strong claws and thick muscled legs that allows them to construct extraordinary burrows and their tunnels may measure 45 feet long and 3-6 feet deep.
Unlike Prairie Dogs, who form connected burrows with tunnels of other community burrows, Groundhogs dig deep burrows for themselves that are not connected to other burrows, since they are mostly solitary by nature whereas the former are extremely social.
Groundhogs are known to be ‘true hibernators’ and are able to slow their hearts, lower their body temperature and reduce their oxygen uptake.
Although Prairie Dogs do not truly hibernate, they spend their winters by regulating their body temperature with the help of a process called facultative torpor.
While Groundhogs have a shrill whistle call for warning other Groundhogs of danger, Prairie Dogs have many distinct calls mainly in the form of whistles, that they use for various reasons and purposes.
13. Cat Vs Groundhog
Cats and Groundhogs are two totally different species of different families and therefore have nothing in common as such.
They both are small creatures that seldom initiate a fight but can become aggressive if they seem to be threatened.
If a Cat encounters a Groundhog, they ignore each other since the Cat has nothing to do with it and the Groundhog doesn’t attack until threatened.
14. Groundhog Vs Hedgehog
Groundhogs and Hedgehogs are two distinctive creatures of different families.
While Groundhogs belong to the Sciuridae family and are closely related to squirrels, Hedgehogs are spiny mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, in the eulipotyphla family Erinaceidae and share distant ancestry with shrews (family Soricidae).
Groundhogs are predominantly native to North America and are found through much of the U.S, Alaska and Canada. Hedgehogs are generally found through some parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Unlike Groundhogs, Hedgehogs have short spines that resemble those of Porcupines but are in no way related to them.
15. Groundhog Vs Muskrat
Although Groundhogs and Muskrats may look similar, they tend to have more differences than their similarities.
Groundhogs belong to the squirrel family weighing around 9 pounds on an average and have a furry tail. Muskrats, on the other hand, are much smaller in size as compared to Groundhogs, usually weighing around 2 and a half pounds, and have long, flat, hairless tails that can double their length.
Both of these creatures prefer herbivorous diets and feed on plants and seeds, but characteristically Muskrats are not as extraordinary burrow architects as Groundhogs.
16. Nutria Vs Groundhog
People may confuse between Nutria and Groundhogs since both of these creatures look alike.
However, they have considerable differences between them and tend to show some unique features of their own.
Nutrias are much larger than Groundhogs weighing around 20 pounds on an average and are upto 3 feet in length. Nutrias are predominantly semi-aquatic creatures, while Groundhogs are totally terrestrial.
Nutrias are characterized by long, round, finely haired tail, webbed feet, whiskers and orange coloured teeth. They are primarily found in or around water that distinguishes them from Groundhogs.
17. Groundhog Vs Gopher
Although Groundhogs and Gophers have similar appearances and burrowing habits, they show more differences than their similarities.
While Groundhogs belong to the Sciuridae family and Marmota genus, Gophers belong to the Geomyidae family including pocket Gophers, Kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.
Gophers have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, pinkish feet, and fur-lined cheeck pockets predominantly used for storing foods. All these characteristics being totally different from that of Groundhogs.
Gophers are extremely small in size weighing approximately around 2 pounds that make them disadvantageous against Groundhogs in a fight.
Unlike Groundhogs that feed on vegetables and fruits, Gophers usually feed on roots and tubers, thus are seldom out of their burrows. However, they are found around through out the year whereas Groundhogs hibernate in winters.
Thus, it is apparent from the article that Groundhogs are no doubt an incredible species of the squirrel family that tend to show some unique and interesting characteristic features of their own.
In this article, we discussed and discovered 17 unique and interesting facts concerning the Groundhog’s livelihood, lifespan, eating habits, hibernation, and differences with that of other similar creatures like Prairie Dogs, Cats, Hedgehogs, Muskrats, Nutrias, and Gophers.
It is evident that these creatures are distinct from others in various positions and thus deserve appreciative recognition by people who tend to ignore them.