My Father’s Groundhog [PHOTOS]
I guess you could say that, for my father, every day is “Groundhog Day,” but without all the time distortion of the Bill Murray comedy classic of the 90’s!
This is a rare face-to-face appearance! Usually when seen, the “g-hog” is running (waddling as fast as possible) into the shrubs. Otherwise, he/she is hiding underground in the “burrow.”
The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver, is a rodent. It is part of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.
The groundhog is common in the northeastern and central U.S., and Canada. They are found as far north as Alaska, and all the way southeast to Georgia!
The average adult groundhog measures 16 to 26 inches long, and weighs 4 to 9 pounds.
Groundhogs are covered with two coats of fur! A dense grey undercoat, and a longer coat of banded guard hairs, that gives the groundhog a “frosted” appearance.
Groundhogs are well suited for digging, with short but powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. It’s spine is curved, like a mole, and the tail is about one-fourth of its body length.
For the most part, groundhogs eat wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and domestic farm crops, if available. They also eat grubs, grasshoppers, other insects and snails, plus small animals!
Like squirrels, groundhogs have been seen sitting up eating nuts (or in the case of my pictures, a pear off the backyard tree). But unlike squirrels, they do not bury nuts for future use.
Groundhogs “drink” through eating leafy plants, instead of drinking water!
Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, using burrows for sleeping, raising their young, and hibernating. Although groundhogs are the most solitary of marmots, several individuals may live in the same burrow!
Groundhog burrows have from two to five entrances, giving groundhogs their main means of escape from predators. Burrows are large, with up to 45 feet of tunnels, buried up to 5 feet underground!
Groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation, and they often build a separate “winter burrow.” This burrow is usually in a wooded area, and is dug below the frost line. This means that the groundhog’s “home” stays at a stable temperature, well above freezing, during winter.
In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October til March or April. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before hibernation. They emerge from hibernation with some remaining body fat to live on, until spring brings new food.
You might be surprised to know that groundhogs are good swimmers, and excellent tree climbers when escaping predators, or when they want to check out their surroundings.
As alluded to earlier, groundhogs prefer to retreat to their burrows when threatened…and if the burrow is invaded, the groundhog will defend itself with its two large teeth and front claws. Groundhogs are territorial…and when frightened, the hairs of the tail stand straight up, making the tail look like a hair brush! Beware!!
Groundhogs are often active early in the morning, or in late afternoon.
Outside their burrow, groundhogs are alert when not eating. And, its not unusual to see one or more nearly-motionless groundhogs standing up on their hind feet, watching for danger.
When alarmed, they use a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony. Groundhogs may squeal when fighting, seriously injured, or caught by a predator (including: wolves, coyotes, foxes, bears, hawks, domestic dogs). They may also “bark,” and make a warning sound by grinding their teeth. Again…Beware!
Babies? Groundhogs usually breed in their second year, after hibernation. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male leaves the burrow. One litter is born each year, usually containing two to six blind, hairless and helpless young.
Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own “homes” at five to six weeks, once their fur is grown, and they can see.
In the wild, groundhogs can live up to six years, with two or three years being average. In captivity, groundhogs are reported to live anywhere from 9 to14 years (like the world-famous Punxsutawney Phil).
That’s everything you ever wanted to know about groundhogs…but were afraid to ask, right?
So, that’s the “G-hog” in the “wild…”
Then, there’s “Phil II” from Punxsutawney P.A. (above). “My” groundhog.
Just a note about the photos…I took them through two panes of glass…at a great distance. When I quietly went out the back door, and tried to take a picture…you guessed it…I was heard…and before I could be seen…
…my Dad’s “pal” was gone…in a flash…like usual.
Check out the story of Punxsutawney Phil, and Groundhog Day! Click here for my nj1015.com article published last “G-Hog Day!”