By Trudyann Buckley
A groundhog could count these facts on one hand! …if he could count.
They are called whistle pigs because, when they spy a threat, they sometimes whistle. This may be to warn others, or to scare their predators. They’re not closely related to pigs at all!
Woodchucks don’t have anything to do with wood, either. (Though, they can climb trees to get away from predators.) The name “Woodchuck” actually comes from the Native American name for Groundhogs: wuchak.
If we’re talking about nibbling on wood, they do that to file down their teeth, but not too often.
But lots of people would say “to chuck” means to throw something. Groundhogs are great at digging burrows, so they chuck a lot of dirt, but not wood. In fact, one scientist found that they “throw” about 700 pounds of dirt out of the way to make one burrow. If you imagine that dirt is a bunch of wood chips instead, you have your answer!
Groundhogs are rodents. They’re closely related to squirrels, and more distantly related to mice, rats, and beavers. Rodents are set apart from other mammals by their two front teeth, which just keep growing! If they don’t file their teeth down by munching, they’re in trouble! A groundhog’s teeth can grow a little less than an inch every year.
A lot of the mammals who live in Delaware stay active during the winter, but not groundhogs! They eat a lot during the fall, pack on the pounds, and then they burrow into the ground and fall asleep for the winter. While hibernating, they can lower their body temperature from around 99 degrees to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes even colder temperatures! Their heartbeat and breathing also slows down. During that time, they use their extra fat as fuel to keep them alive. Then, they wake up in the spring!
Groundhog Day has been celebrated on February 2nd in Punxsutawney, PA since the early 1800s. It falls on the Christian holiday of Candlemas, the festival of light. The superstition goes that if it’s sunny on Candlemas, then there will be six more weeks of winter. However, if it’s cloudy, then Spring is coming! So, in Europe, if a hedgehog emerged from hibernation on Candlemas and saw his shadow, uh oh! More winter! When Europeans came to America, groundhogs were chosen as a substitute, since there were no wild hedgehogs here.
Do you want to celebrate Groundhogs with Delaware Nature Society? Come on over to Ashland Nature Center on February 1st at 10am for the Groundhog Gala! We’ll be meeting a Groundhog puppet friend, visiting an outdoor burrow, playing games, and crafting our own furry friend!
The Groundhog Gala is a seasonal family program, perfect for families with kids below ten years old! Learn more and register HERE! or, call (302) 239-2334 to register over the phone!