Also known as woodchucks, groundhogs are large rodents with brown fur, round bodies, and bushy tails. These rodents enjoy fame once every year when celebrated in the United States on Groundhog Day, which is every February 2. This celebration is about using these animals to predict the weather; if a groundhog sees its shadow, it implies six more winter weeks. But there are many other interesting things about these rodents!
They are ‘cousins’ to squirrels
Groundhogs, botanically called marmota monax, belong to a rodent family known as marmots. They are the largest species in the family of marmots, a family that’s closely related to that of squirrels.
In fact, it won’t be wrong to call them large, round squirrels. However, they are unique for their extensive range; they can be found all over North America- they even reach as far as Alaska.
They are intelligent builders
There’s nothing new about an animal building a home- but groundhogs’ homes are nothing like ‘ordinary’. With a length ranging anywhere between 8 and 66 feet, their homes usually have different sections and exits.
Their homes have bathrooms that are for defecating and another section for hibernating. They also have a section in their burrows that serves as a summer home where they can quickly come out. The different exits are for easy escape if a predator finds its way into their home.
They are true hibernators
Many animals go into hibernation when the weather becomes unfavorable; however, groundhogs are among the true hibernators. This means they can reduce their body temperature and heart rate to under 20°C and five beats per minute.
Groundhogs go into bouts of deep sleep when their body temperature drops to 5°C for about a week; then, they wake for about three days and return to deep sleep. From late fall to late winter or early spring, they follow this cycle about 20 times.
Groundhogs also cause headaches for some
While they have many impressive qualities, groundhogs, also called land beavers, often make things difficult for farmers. Driving over their complicated burrows with a tractor can break an axle. What about their destructive habits?
To farmers, groundhogs are also pests. As herbivores, they plunder crops like corn, cabbage, and soybeans. The worst part is that they are selective, so they always go for the best of these crops in your garden.
Planning? They are also good at that
Aside from the fact that they are used as winter predictors, groundhogs have impeccable timing for their activities. They come out of hibernation when it’s still cold, allowing the male to survey burrows for potential mates.
Then they go back to sleep for about a month- until it’s time to mate. They also make sure to mate at the perfect time- so their offspring aren’t born too early when the female won’t have enough to feed them or too late when they’ll be unable to get enough weight.