14 Fun Facts About Groundhogs

A groundhog munching on peanuts (via wikimedia commons)

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, which means six more weeks of winter (if you believe in that kind of silliness). Here are 14 more believable facts about his species:

1. A groundhog (Marmota monax) is also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, and a land-beaver.

2. Groundhog is a better name for the animal than woodchuck as, despite the children’s rhyme, they’re not very adept at moving wood. Though they will chew on the stuff.

3. Its marmot relatives live in rocky, mountainous regions, but groundhogs prefer open areas and the edges of woodlands.

4. Because of their preference for open areas, the groundhog population probably benefited from the forest clearing that occurred after European settlers arrived in North America and spread across the continent. There are likely more groundhogs in America now than before Columbus landed.

5. They can be found throughout the northeastern United States, much of Canada, and as far north as Alaska.

6. When groundhogs hibernate, they slow their metabolism and drop their body temperature to just a bit warmer than the place where they’re sleeping. Their bodies can reach temperatures as low as 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. They usually wake up from hibernation around the second week of February, so it’s no wonder when Phil is a bit groggy on Groundhog’s Day–I bet you’re the same way when you have to set the alarm earlier than usual.

8. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club claims that a magical punch extends Phil’s life (yeah, right), but wild groundhogs only live around six to eight years maximum and captive animals 14 years max.

9. Close relatives of the groundhog, a large type of rodent, include squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs.

10. Groundhogs may not be good a chucking wood, but they are great diggers. All that digging tills the soil and provides shelter for other critters, and their waste is great fertilizer.

11. Their burrows are more than just holes in the ground. They can consist of nearly 50 feet of tunnels, buried five feet underground, with multiple exits in case the animals need to escape from predators. Groundhogs will sleep in their burrows, raise their young there, and hibernate through the winter.

12. These rodents can also climb trees or swim if they need to make a quick getaway.

13. The name whistle-pig comes from the high-pitched scream the animals will give to warn the other members of their colony when danger is around.

14. Research on groundhogs helped to prove that hepatitis B infection causes liver cancer.

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