A Groundhog or Woodchuck_Marmot monax standing on hindlegs

Fascinating Groundhog Facts

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I had a feeling that the groundhog is far more interesting than the standard, “sees his shadow” stories we hear at this time of year. I send this post early so you can inform (bore) your friends with fascinating groundhog facts.

In the Philly area, we called this animal, a “groundhog”. The other common name for this animal is a “woodchuck”.

What type of animal is a groundhog?

Groundhogs are marmots. Their scientific name is Mamot monax.  Groundhogs are the largest marmot in eastern North America.

How are groundhogs scientifically classified?

The Squirrel family (Sciuridae) is divided up into three groups: tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels. The squirrel family is classified as belonging to the order of rodents (RODENTIA), family (Sciuridae), subfamily (Xerinae). Then there are the tribes. North American ground squirrels are tribe Marmotini. African ground squirrels are tribe Xerini. Groundhogs are classified as ground squirrels in the tribe, Marmotini. Groundhogs are ground squirrels and marmots.

Examples of animals classified as ground squirrels include marmots, prairie dogs, woodchucks (groundhogs), and chipmunks. All of the animals mentioned above are considered members of the rodent family, including groundhogs.

What species are related to groundhogs?

Groundhogs are marmots along with the marmots in the western United States. The western marmots are Yellow-bellied marmots,  Wood marmots, Hoary marmots, Olympic, Alaska, and Vancouver Island marmots.

What is the difference between a woodchuck and a groundhog?

Nothing, they are the same animal, Marmot monax. Monax (Móonack) is an Algonquian name of the woodchuck, which meant “digger” (cf. Lenape monachgeu)

Groundhogs are also called chuck, wood-chuck, groundpig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk, land beaver, and whistlepig. The name whistlepig refers to the high shrill whistle sound as an alarm call.

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What do ground hogs look like?

Groundhogs have long, bodies, short legs, and short tails. Groundhogs fur varies in color from brownish-gray to dull brown, to cinnamon-colored.

Groundhogs like all ground squirrels can stand on their hind legs.

Groundhogs like all rodents have four-chisel-like incisors in the front of their mouths. Two incisors at the top and two incisors at the bottom of their mouths. They use these four incisors for gnawing. These incisors continually grow and have long roots extending into their jaw bone. The other teeth are molars in the back of their mouths used for grinding,  just like us humans use our molars.

Where do groundhogs live?

Groundhogs are found throughout North America. They are possibly the most widely distributed marmot in North America. They are found in much of the eastern United States, western Canada, and central Alaska.

As a ground squirrel, groundhogs forage on and nest in the ground. These habits contrast to tree squirrels, like the Eastern Gray Squirrel, which live and feeds above the ground in trees.

Marmots that live in western North America are alpine creatures living in mountain regions. Groundhogs are lowland creatures. Groundhog habitat is open areas like fields, pastures, and sparsely wooded hillsides. This makes human- built pastures, lawns, golf courses, cemeteries, and parks perfect groundhog habitat.

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How fast can a groundhog move?

Groundhogs can move like tree squirrels by bounding along the ground. Groundhogs can run with speeds of up to10 miles per hour.

All marmots can swim and climb trees. As a marmot, so can groundhogs.

Groundhogs can also stand on their hind legs.

What are their underground burrows like?

The passages of their burrows tend to run parallel to the surface of the ground. The passages can be as long as 43 feet. The burrow has at least two chambers. One chamber is used as the summer nest and another is used as the winter hibernating chamber. Another chamber may function as a toilet. The chambers are at the end of long tunnels.

Once the daylight begins to shorten, a groundhog enters their hibernation (hibernacula) chamber. They seal the entrance with soil, vegetation, and feces.

Groundhogs in the east hibernate up to 3.5 to 6 months. They may hibernate longer in the north. Groundhogs enter their burrows for hibernation in mid-October and emerge in February. The males emerge in the spring before the females. Groundhogs spend up to 80% of their lives in the darkness of their burrows.

Groundhogs defecate in chambers in their underground burrows. Knowing the habits of other ground squirrels, this toilet is most likely a separate chamber. Groundhogs will also defecate on the top of mounds of soil in front of their burrows.   Above or below ground, groundhogs cover their scat with soil.

A diagram of a groundhog burrow is found in this Purdue University pdf https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/ADM-16.pdf.

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Are groundhogs nocturnal?

No, groundhogs are diurnal (active during daylight hours). Most of their day is spent inside their burrows. About 1/3 of their day is spent outside. Of the ⅓ of the time spent outside their burrows, 60% of their time is spent lying around, sunbathing, and digesting food. About 23% of their outside time is spent foraging and eating. The other 15% is spent guarding their territories and watching for predators.

What do they call a baby groundhog?

The young are called pups or kits. Groundhogs are often born in mid-April in litters of 3 to 4 young. The gestation period for groundhogs is 32 to 43 days.

What do groundhogs eat?

Groundhogs are herbivores. They eat primarily plants such as grasses, flowers, and other vegetation. Groundhogs only eat at safe distances from their burrows entrances. They also eat acorns and other nuts. They will eat insects that they come across as they eat plants. Groundhogs are also known to eat meat such as chipmunks or other small mammals they have found dead or killed themselves.

What animals eat groundhogs?

A variety of predators kill groundhogs including coyotes, domestic dogs, foxes, bobcats, fishers, weasels, red-tailed hawks, and Great-horned Owls.

How do you keep groundhogs out of your garden or fields?

If you have a serious problem with groundhogs destroying your garden or farm fields, Purdue University has an informative article with advice at https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/ADM-16.pdf.

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