Saturday, January 28, 2012

Squirrel Facts: The Groundhog

This coming Thursday, February 2, is Groundhog Day, that annual celebration when we all find out whether to expect an early spring or an extended winter. What many people don't realize is that the groundhog, also known as woodchuck and--believe it or not--"whistle-pig," is really a large ground squirrel.

WTF, do I look like a pig to you?
The groundhog is native to most of eastern and central North America, from Alabama in the south to as far north as parts of Alaska. It is one of the largest ground squirrels, measuring 16-26 inches in length including the tail, and weighing about 5-9 pounds. In some areas where there are few predators and plentiful food some individuals can grow even larger. It has two coats of fur, a shorter dense gray undercoat, and a longer brown outer coat. The tail is quite short compared to many other species of squirrel.

Although groundhogs live mostly on and under the ground, and have a heavy appearance that makes them look somewhat awkward, they are good swimmers and excellent climbers. When cornered by an enemy, they defend themselves with their sharp teeth and claws. An individual will also defend territory aggressively against other invading groundhogs.

Groundhogs are mostly herbivorous, eating grasses, berries, some nuts, and agricultural plants. They also will eat some insects such as grasshoppers, and grubs and snails. They get most of their water from eating leafy plants, rather than from drinking.

Compared to many other ground squirrels, groundhogs are relatively solitary. They live in burrows, and while several individuals may occupy one burrow, they do not form large communities like prairie dogs and other burrowing squirrels. The burrows are large, with tunnels extending sometimes close to fifty feet, buried up to five feet underground, with up to five entrances. The burrows are used for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernation.

The groundhog is one of the few species of squirrel that hibernates. Sometimes a separate burrow, in a wooded or brushy area, is used for hibernation, which usually lasts from October until March or April.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to appreciate the groundhog, a creature often misunderstood and least thought of as a member of the squirrel family!! He is the weatherman of the Order Rodentia!