Wild Files: It’s our Nature

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Happy Groundhog Day! There are 15 species of groundhogs across the globe, three which reside in Canada. The species we see burrowing on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc, and Ktunaxa Peoples, and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of B.C., is the species known as marmota monax petrensis. Groundhogs, which thrive in prairie and wooded areas, belong to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots, and are the second largest member of the ground squirrel family next, to the hoary marmot. 

Groundhogs have four incisor teeth, white to ivory white, which grow 1.5 millimetres (mm) per week, as their constant usage wears them down them the same amount weekly.  As herbivores, groundhogs eat a variety of plants and are known for taking tasty fruit and vegetable treats from people’s farms and gardens. They are also eat insects, snails, and grubs. Predators include grey wolves, badgers, coyotes and cougars. The length of the average adult groundhog is 68.5 centimetres (cm) including a tail up to nearly 19 cm. The average year-round weight of males is 3.83 kilograms (kg) while females weigh in a little less at 3.53 kg. In the wild they live up to six years of age; in captivity have reached the age of 14. 

Chuck in repetition

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are distinguished by gender as he-chucks and she-chucks; their young are called chucklings, or pups. A group of groundhogs is called a repetition. Out of the entire ground squirrel family, groundhogs are the most solitary and do not form stable, long-term bonds, and only court to reproduce. Mating happens after groundhogs come out of hibernation at the end of February or beginning of March. After a gestation period of 32 days, she-chucks birth three to five chucklings that are born naked and blind. They are independent by two months of age. 

Hibernating hogs

Groundhogs hibernate; they retreat to their burrows in mid-fall and go into a deep slumber. Their body temperature drops from 37 to 3.3 degrees Celsius; their heart rate drops from 80 to four beats a minute. Aside from arising a few times to relieve themselves or step outside for a moment, hibernation can last up to five months for groundhogs. When they emerge from it, their bodies are thin and depleted. They make up for this during the spring and summer months. They are ravenous eaters and can consume rows of farmers crops.

Whistle pigs

Groundhogs are also called whistle pigs because they let out a whistle-like warning call when they sense danger. This alerts all other groundhogs around of dangers such as a low-flying hawk or another predator. Groundhogs fight and squabble with each other for their territories. Their defense tactics also include teeth chattering and tail swishing.

Down to earth

Groundhogs are said to have a significant connection to the earth and they represent stability and earth energy. In Indigenous cultures, it’s believed if a groundhog arrives as a spirit animal it’s an opportunity for self-examination and personal growth; it appears to help you leave negativity behind, while clearing the path for the emergence of one’s genuine self. 

Without a shadow without a doubt

The first Groundhog Day dates all the way back to February 2, 1887, when a rodent meteorologist was celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. In 1887, a newspaper editor who belonged to a group of groundhog hunters called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, declared that a groundhog called Phil was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. Since, the groundhog has always been referred to as Punxsutawney Phil. According to tradition, if the groundhog does not see his shadow, then without a doubt, spring will come early. If he is startled by his silhouette, then it’s six more weeks of winter for all.