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Fun Facts for Groundhog Day

Posted on 1/29/2021
by Rene Stroud, Naturalist
Get to know our favorite weather predicting mammal!

Will we have an early spring or six more weeks of winter? Only the groundhog knows! Get to know these amateur meteorologists & get ready for February 2nd!

What is the difference between a groundhog & a woodchuck?

Nothing! These are two common terms for the same animal. The Marmota monax is a rodent who is related to squirrels. Did you know woodchucks can climb trees as well as swim? 

Why is Groundhog Day in February?

Groundhog Day is a North American holiday held on February 2nd each year & there is actually a reason for this date. February 2nd is roughly halfway between the winter solstice in December & the vernal equinox in March making it the mid-way point of winter. Groundhogs also end their hibernation in early to mid February in anticipation of the return of spring making these little rodents a haringer of spring all on their own. 

Why do they wake up on a regular schedule?

We aren't exactly sure but we think the groundhog's internal clock is sensitive to changes in the amount of daylight & this impacts their sleep hormone production. More daylight means they create less melatonin & they begin to wake. 

Why are they called "whistle pigs" or "whistlers"?

These more colloquial names aren't too common in Iowa but can be heard occasionally, especially in areas further east. This nickname comes from the high pitched whistle sound they make when they are threatened. 

Where do they hibernate?

Groundhogs occupy underground burrows all year long & retreat to the lowest portion, the hibernaculum, during the winter for their sleep. This portion of the burrow is below the frost line so this means their body temperature stays around 40 degrees fahrenheit. 

What's do they eat?

Groundhogs are vegetarians & really enjoy green plants, especially dandelion greens. They are also common garden pests who enjoy tasty vegetables. Like most hibernating animals they will bulk up, adding extra weight to help them survive the winter. This is important since they can lose half their body weight over the winter months. 

Can a woodchuck really chuck wood?

Nope. Just a fun rhyme. 

Sources: College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Mammals of the Eastern United States, Second Edition, William J. Hamilton Jr. and John O. Whitaker Jr.

 

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Winter Tree Identification: Part 1 (2/5/2021)
by Rene Stroud, Naturalist

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