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.
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.
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.
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.
Hi , we have two groundhogs living in my yard. Initially I tried to recover the hole the first one had built to no avail. He kept digging it back out. I gave up, one tunnel goes under my manufactured home. This one is like a silver and grey color. The other one who came as a young kit is brown and tan. His tunnel goes under my shed. Their homes are across from each other. The Young one will poke his head out and listen to me when I talk to him..We feed them carrots, apples, lettuce, cabbage and a variety of fruit. I do keep my distance from them, just helping them out as well as the squirrels and birds. We also have flying squirrels that come out each night when it gets dark. I leave the shelled walnuts on our front porch railing. They come every night and make chirping noises that sound similar to birds. They fly from one tree to the big one that is right next to my railing. At first I thought they were chipmunks but soon learned otherwise. These animals are endangered from what I understand. Anyway, I have had the fortune to enjoy this experience of helping nature along as so many struggle to survive out there and the groundhogs are very smart.j
Hi Karin, It sounds like an exciting backyard habitat you have going. The flying squirrels are phenomenal. I think there are flying squirrels around here, but I’ve never seen them. I have a National Wildlife Certified backyard Habitat and I proudly display the sign. Is your backyard certified? NWF has a sale on the sign until July 31, 2022. https://www.nwf.org/CERTIFY. Thanks you for sharing your conservation efforts.
A search for “groundhog golden coat” brought me here. Your photo of a reddish-gold groundhog is the only one I’ve found online that resembles a creature living in or near my yard for at least a year. I don’t have a good photo; I’m sure it’s a groundhog/woodchuck as it’s shaped and behaves exactly like the typical brownish ones around here, except it has a gorgeous palomino-colored coat, very pale gold. It is really striking. Can you tell me if this is a known coat variation for these really interesting characters?
Hi Nell, Thanks for your questions. I’ve seen groundhogs (woodchucks) with taupey-brown coats and individuals with more of a golden tint. I think they have a range of hair colors. You didn’t say where you live, but groundhogs are widely distributed throughout the eastern US and Canada. Yellow-bellied Marmots are found widely in the western US and southern Canada. I do think it a groundhog, and it sounds like a beauty. Please keep taking photos!
Thank you for answering and your insights. I live on the south central Long Island NY coast, about 100 feet from protected wetlands and a creek flowing into the bay. Groundhogs/woodchucks occasionally visit my yard but I think this golden one lives in or near it (I keep the yard pretty “natural”) because I see it so regularly. I’ll keep trying to get a good photo though I’m not much of a photographer. Your photos are gorgeous and the website is full of important helpful information, I’m glad I stumbled on it. If I can get a decent picture or video, how do I share it with you?
Hi Nell, Thanks for your offer of sharing a photo. Once you have a good photo, use the contact form in the upper right corner of the blog. I’ll send you a link to upload a photo. Have you thought about sharing your photo with the world by uploading to Wikimedia? When I need a photo of something and don’t have a good one. I use Wikimedia. Just a thought. 🙂
I was wondering if a Groundhog would chase a Possum out of it`s home under a tool shed and take over because I had a Possum for over a year I only see the Groundhog now using the same entrance that the Possum used .
Hi, Geraldine – Thanks for your question. I’ll answer both your questions in this one reply. When you spoke to it froze instead of its famous tactic of “playing possum’ which means playing dead. Opossums roam. They don’t have a set home/den site that they return to night after night. They sleep in a den for a night then sleep somewhere else the next night within their home territory. The opossum that visited your yard probably included it on its’ nightly rounds. I doubt it lived in your yard for more than a night/day or two. It might return because they rotate their denning spots. Since you haven’t seen it for months it may have moved on to another area or died. – Groundhog are active in the day and opossums at night. Opossums like to den in trees, groundhogs underground. They could probably occupy the yard and not cross paths. They would smell each others scent, though. Were they cordial neighbors, probably. Donna
I had a possum in my yard and I was feeding it on a regular basis I came face to face with it one evening last summer when I was later than usual with the food I spoke to it but it just froze .A few weeks later I saw a big Groundhog walking by my patio mid afternoon I have not seen my possum now for several months i I was wondering if the Groundhog would kill the Possum because it is living where the Possum used to be or would they live in the same place just maybe a different area under the sanme building ?
I have what I thought was a woodchuck but one of them has a white stripe down it back & another has more stripes. What have I been feeding?
Sherry – I really don’t know. The only North American mammals I know of with white stripes down their backs are skunks and chipmunks. If they aren’t one of those, I would take some photos and take the photos into your local animal control to identify. They could be escaped critters. If you have the time I would love to know what they are. Contact me if you can. My contact link is on every page of this site in the upper right corner. Good luck and stay safe.