The furry little critter that emerges from his hole in spring is cute but is he a good garden visitor? He certainly captured the imagination of the American movie going public after the 1993 movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, and thousands of people flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every year to see Punxscutawney Phil emerge from his burrow. So, what’s so fascinating about groundhogs?
Here are ten interesting facts about groundhogs.
1. Ground hogs are also known as woodchucks, land-beavers and “whistle pigs” from their habit of emitting a loud whistle to alert other groundhogs of danger.
2. They are related to squirrels and are the largest member of the family.
3. The life span of a groundhog is about 10 yeas in captivity and 6 in the wild but Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario is said to be 22.
4. Groundhogs can swim and climb trees to escape predators.
5. They dig tunnels in the ground over 40 feet long and 5 deep.
6. Their diet consists primarily of plant material like wild grasses and berries but they also like agricultural crops, especially alfalfa. They also eat grubs, insects, and snails.
7. Groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April and often build a special burrow just for that purpose.
8. Groundhog pairs mate in the spring and have a litter of 2-6 helpless offspring that are ready to be on their own in 5-6 weeks. Dad leaves the den just before the darlings arrive.
9. Groundhog day was derived from a German custom of observing the emergence of a hedgehog on Candlemas to determine the end of winter. When the German settled in North America they lacked hedgehogs in their new Pennsylvania home and used a groundhog instead.
10. The most famous groundhog used for Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney Phil, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife Phyllis in the town library except when he is taken to a special burrow on Gobbler’s Knob on February 2nd each year so the crowds can see him emerge and look for his shadow. If he sees his shadow, he returns to his burrow for another 6 weeks of winter. His accuracy is 37%.
Looking over the list of interesting facts it appears that some farmers may hate groundhogs for the damage to crops and agricultural lands but most gardeners probably don’t notice the deep burrows unless they occur under their homes or garden sheds. Some grubs and insects disappear due to groundhogs but the number is probably not significant especially in agricultural areas where food is abundant. Good garden visitor? Maybe. Good tourist attraction– For sure.