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Groundhogs 101

Everything you need to know about this not-a-hog on Goundhog Day

A groundhog. Photo by Ingevd Meeberg, Thinkstock.

Every February 2thousands of people gather at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania to watch Punxatawney Phil emerge from his burrow and indicate whether there’ll be 6 more weeks of winter.

As you’re celebrating this quirky holiday, take a moment to learn some facts about the cute and quirky groundhog, as well!

A groundhog. Photo by Ingevd Meeberg, Thinkstock.1.  Not a Type of Hog
Groundhogs are not a type of hog that lives in the ground…they’re rodents, belonging to a group of large ground squirrels called marmots. Groundhogs have an extensive range and can be found all over North America and Canada.

They can climb trees like squirrels, and although they sometimes eat nuts like squirrels, they don’t bury nuts like their bushy-tailed relatives.

2.  Not Social Butterflies, Either
Groundhogs are loners. They pretty much go about their business nibbling grass, without much interaction with others, except during mating season.

They wouldn’t win any parent-of-the year awards either. The father leaves the burrow just before the babies (kits) are born, and the mother leaves the young on their own after weaning, at about five or six weeks.

3.  Wonderful Diggers
If you could see under the ground, you’d find a system of tunnels with several layers, multiple exits and many chambers.

Groundhogs have short limbs with curved claws to make their digging chores easier. A groundhog’s burrow can be anywhere from 8 to 66 feet long.

4.  Great Sleepers
Groundhogs are “true hibernators”–they enter a dormant state, in which their body temperature and heart rate fall dramatically. Hibernation lasts from October until March or April.

5.  Kind of a Pest
Home owners and farmers consider groundhogs a nuisance. They eat vegetables from gardens, and their burrows often undermine yards and foundations.

6.  Cute Nicknames
Phil isn’t the only name for a groundhog. Groundhogs are also called woodchucks and land-beavers. Their funniest nickname, however, is whistle-pig, because of the short, high-pitched whistles they make when alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they begin courting.

Most importantly, cute as they may be, groundhogs are not lovable friendly critters. They’re known for their aggressive nature. So if you happen to see a groundhog, don’t try to pat him or pick him up. Just wish him Happy Groundhog Day and be on your way!

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