What Do Groundhogs Do All Winter?
Groundhog photo courtesy of USFWS
Every year on February 2nd (Groundhog Day) in Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania, the most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, makes his gracious appearance from underground. Will he see his shadow? According to legend, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, there will be an early spring. But, what were Phil and his fellow groundhogs doing underground in the first place? Hibernating!
Groundhogs live in much of the eastern half of the United States, from Oklahoma up to North Dakota, eastward to Georgia and up to Maine. In the months leading up to hibernation, groundhogs store up layers of fat by eating grass and other plants. They usually go into hibernation once the first frost appears, around October or November, and stay in their burrows until warmer weather rolls around in February or March. During this time, their heart rate slows, body temperature drops and they don’t get up to eat. Their bodies feed off the layers of fat they built up prior to hibernation. Once warmer weather rolls around, groundhogs come out of their burrows to find mates. Females will have their litters in early spring.
Quick fun fact: Groundhogs – also known as woodchucks – don’t move or “chuck” wood as efficiently as beavers. But…how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? One wildlife biologist estimated that if the typical groundhog’s burrow was filled with wood instead of dirt, the animal would have “chucked” about 700 pounds!
Have you spotted any hibernators this winter, or possibly their footprints in the dirt or snow? Take photos and upload them to the Eyes on Central PA Mission on Project Noah!