1. What is a groundhog?
"Groundhog" is another name for "woodchuck", which is what I am. A groundhog is an adorable furry animal that burrows beneath the ground. We dig dens underground where we sleep, tend our young, and hibernate during winter. We are considered rodents along with squirrels, prairie dogs, and chipmunks. Officially, we belong to the "marmot" family and are one of 14 currently known species of marmots. Our scientific name is "marmota monax". In groundhogese, this translates to "marvelous mammal!"
2. Where are groundhogs found?
In the garden if we dare! (:B) No, seriously, we can be found throughout North America and particularly in the east. Our species ranges from the southeastern United States up through northern Canada and northwest to Alaska. We build our homes underground and often beneath sheds, decks, patios and other structures which offer protection. As for the garden, fear not! We eat the stuff that falls to the ground that people don't want anyway. Besides, by August you'll still have more tomatoes and squash than you can possibly give away.
3. What do groundhogs look like
Not to bragg, but we are quite adorable! We are about the size and weight of a cat, though we are far better looking. Our ears are small, round and cute. Our head is flat with a pointed snout. Our eyes and nose are black. Our fur is a cozy brown and gray, and our feet and tail are black. In rare cases, our fur may be all black ("melano") or all white ("albino"). Our legs are short and strong, and we have sharp claws (for digging) and teeth (for chewing).
4. How big do groundhogs get?
I am about one and a half to two feet long (45-60 cm) including my tail, which is about one-fourth of my body length. Some say that the males are bigger than the females, but that is not always the case. Our bodies are long while our legs are short.
5. What color are groundhogs' teeth?
Our teeth are white. What color are your teeth? One problem that we have is that our teeth (incisors) keep growing. If we don't wear them down from chewing, they can be very harmful to us, even fatal. See photos below showing normal and abnormal growth of teeth.) So you see why we must chew, chew, chew! Click to see normal and abnormal teeth.
6. What about groundhogs' feet?
Our hind foot has five well-developed toes and measures 3 to 3.5 inches in length. Our front foot has only four fingers, and a small thumb on the forepaw which is barely visible. All fingers and toes have claws. Click here to see a picture.
7. What do groundhogs eat?
We are mostly vegetarians. We like fruits and vegetables of all kinds, and some of us will eat eggs (I'll take mine scrambled please!). I've also heard that some of us occasionally eat bugs (yuck!). Other than that, we are not meat eaters. Please don't try to feed us hotdogs (right Thor?). We enjoy lettuce,tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, broccolli, carrots, apples, strawberries, cantaloupe and watermellon (without the seeds, please!). We also LOVE a slice of bread once in a while. Pizza tastes good too, but really isn't good for us (with the cheese and stuff). When these special treats are scarce, we will eat a variety of wild plants, including grasses, clover, alfalfa, the leaves of certain trees (like cherry), and certain flowers. We eat a lot because we need to put on weight to sustain us during hibernation. (That's a fact, not an excuse!)
8. What are groundhogs dens like?
We have winter dens and summer dens. Our winter dens are usually built in dry, wooded areas. They are several feet deep, and are used for hibernation. Summer dens are built near grassy areas where food is plentiful. They are usually 2-4 feet deep. If possible, we build our summer dens under barns, sheds and other structures. This offers us protection from predators. Our burrows typically have two entrances or more-- one main entrance and a peep hole (or escape route). Inside, there are separate dens for sleeping/nursing and potty facilities. We are very clean animals and we keep our dens clean. In fact, we carpet them with leaves, and we wipe our feet before entering!
9. How long do groundhogs live?
We can live for several years, however, most of us live a very short life. If people would just drive slower, maybe we'd stand a chance! It's true that many of us get hit by cars. In addition, I understand that many groundhogs do not survive hibernation. I guess some winters are just too long and too cold, and some groundhogs don't put on enough fat to sustain them until spring. As for me, I'm pretty smart, and I eat well, so expect to see me around for awhile.
10. When do groundhogs hibernate?
We usually leave our summer dens by late August or early September to find our winter dens. We begin hibernation in late September or October. During hibernation, we fall into a very deep sleep. When it gets really cold, our body temperature will drop to just below freezing, and our heart rate and breathing slows way down. Why Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2 I don't know. We do not emerge from hibernation until March or sometimes even April (in colder areas). Remember, if the ground is white, we're outta sight! Click here to see a groundhog hibernating.
11. How do groundhogs select mates?
The male groundhog does the courting. When he comes out of hibernation, he immediately seeks a female groundhog. He goes from den to den until he finds one. The two share the den for a short time until the female is ready to give birth. At that time, she drives the father out of the den. The father is not allowed anywhere near the young cubs and has no part in raising them. So he leaves in search of other females, but often finds they are all with cubs by that time (awe, ain't that a shame!)
12. How many cubs do they have?
On average, between three and five cubs per litter (although I understand there have been as few as one and as many as nine). In my family, we had as many as six. However, groundhogs have only one litter per year.
13. When are the cubs born?
Breeding occurs in the Spring (usually in April) and cubs are born approximately 1 month later (usually in May). Cubs are born without fur and are blind. They weigh about an ounce (30 grams) and measure about 4.25 inches (10 cm) long. It takes about two weeks for them to have fur, and four weeks before they can open their eyes. At five weeks, they are running around. The mother will nurse them for about 6 weeks. When they are able to eat on their own, she will move each one away from the home den to a separate den and leave it. However, she will visit each one daily for a few weeks to check on it. In my case, mom let me stay at HogHaven (I was the favorite, of course), and I have lived here every since and had cubs of my own!
14. Do groundhog families stay together?
No, we are pretty much "loners". As mentioned above, mothers and fathers do not even share living quarters after the young are born. When I was born, Dad was no where to be found. Mom raised us all by herself, and my brothers and sisters left home by mid summer to live in separate dens. Occasionally, you might find two young groundhogs sharing a summer den, but that's probably due to a lack of comfortable housing in the area. Other species of marmots I understand are more social and live together in large groups. Personally, I like my space!
15. What sounds do groundhogs make?
Some species make more noise than others. The groundhogs that I know are pretty quiet. However, we can get vocal if provoked. When we feel threatened, we may let out a loud whistle or shrill. A mom protecting her cubs will do this. In the south, they have a nickname for us--"whistlepig". We can also get pretty noisy when we fight, especially if it's over an ear of corn. "It's mine!", "No it's mine!", "No it's mine!" You get the picture.
16. Do groundhogs climb trees?
Yes, with our sharp claws we can climb trees. Although we prefer to stay close to the ground, we will occasionally climb trees for food or to escape predators. Click here to see a picture of my cousin, Berry, who climbs a mulberry tree to eat the mulberries.
17. What are groundhogs' natural enemies?
Meat-eating animals (such as bears, wolves, lynx, bobcats, cougars, foxes), dogs and humans. Dogs prey upon us mostly for sport. People who are afraid of us often do things to try to get rid of us. If more people would simply get to know us, they would recognize what wonderful and gentle creatures we are!
18. What purpose do groundhogs serve?
Like all plants and animals, we play a role in the great scheme of nature. In digging our burrows, we improve the soil (by allowing more air and water to get underground, this helps break down the soil to form more valuable topsoil), and our abandoned dens provide homes for other animals including foxes and skunks. The latter two animals aid farmers by catching and eating millions of injurious small rodents and insects that are harmful to farm crops. So you see, we actually help the farmers!
19. How do you rescue a baby groundhog?
It's a very sad thing when a baby groundhog's mother gets killed, or if the groundhog den is disturbed and the mother is frightened away, leaving her babies behind. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in the suburbs. But thanks to people who love animals, many babies have been saved! Click here for information on how to care for an orphaned baby groundhog.
20. Do groundhogs make good pets?
Wild animals in general should be allowed to remain wild and should not be forced to live as "pets". In cases where a baby groundhog is rescued, it should be rehabilitated and released back into the wild during its first summer. If you keep a baby groundhog longer than that, it will have difficulty learning how to live on its own and finding a home for the winter. Still, some people decide to raise us as pets. They simply fall in love with us (after all, we are soooo adorable!). This can work for the "tolerant and responsible" pet owner who knows what to expect and is willing to make the commitment. There is a lot to consider. First, it is illegal in many states to have a groundhog as a pet--you must research this in your state. Groundhogs can live up to 10 years in captivity. Once we become dependent on humans, we will not survive if released back into the wild. We are very clean animals and can be litter trained. However, we need to trim our teeth and claws (on your furniture, rugs, etc.). Because we like to burrow, we'll seek hiding places within your house that may be unsafe for us. We can be very lovable and playful, but often our loving scratches and bites are taken out of context (we don't mean to hurt you). As adults, we go into heat and yearn for mates, and in the winter all we want to do is sleep (this comes from our natural instinct to hibernate). As with any other pet, we require a healthy diet, lots of exercise (we cannot live in a cage), and regular veterinary care (checkups, vaccines, etc.). People who have successfully raised us as pets have accepted these things and have loved us despite our sometimes peculiar behaviors.