There’s a saying in the UK that if you’re waiting for a bus for a long time then inevitably when it does arrive, two will come along. We’ve had a similar experience today with our new furry friend the Groundhog. Just two days ago we had never even seen one, today we’ve seen five of them. Usually they have been performing speedy acrobatics as they dart out of our path. Anyway, we’re clearly in Groundhog country so I thought I’d do a bit of research to find out a bit more about them, here’s what I’ve learned.
The Groundhog is also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver. It is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. 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 (so perhaps the message here is that we should all adopt Groundhogs – move over woody the chipmunk!). Groundhogs primarily eat wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops, when available. Groundhogs hydrate through eating leafy plants rather than drinking from a water source. Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, using burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating. The average Groundhog has been estimated to move approximately 1 m3 (35 cu ft), or 2,500 kg (5,500 lb), of soil when digging a burrow. Groundhog burrows usually have two to five entrances, providing Groundhogs their primary means of escape from predators (not to be confused with the entrance to a Beaver’s hole, which normally only has one underwater entrance). In most areas, Groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April. Despite their heavy-bodied appearance, Groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and excellent tree climbers.
Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby is a Groundhog resident of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On February 2 (Groundhog Day) of each year, the town of Punxsutawney celebrates the beloved Groundhog with a festive atmosphere of music and food. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise (which occurs at 7:27 AM Eastern Standard Time on February 2 in Punxsutawney), Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in a rural area about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of town. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an “early spring.” The date of Phil’s prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. He is considered to be the world’s most famous prognosticating rodent. During the rest of the year, Phil lives in the town library with his “wife” Phyllis.