Facts about groundhogs other than their bad weather

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February 2: The day of every year that we look to an oversized rodent for how much winter we’re going to endure. In honor of the occasion, here are seven things you might not know about Groundhogs.

1. The scientific name for the groundhog is Marmota monax, making it one of the 14 types of groundhogs that can be found in the northern hemisphere. Groundhogs are part of the Sciuridae family, which makes groundhogs a very large ground squirrel.

2. As we just mentioned, groundhogs are a type of groundhog. So you can say precisely, “Hey, the Marmot saw his shadow. You can also call them groundhogs, piping pigs, or land beavers, depending on where you are from. The name pig-whistle comes from the high-pitched whistle that groundhogs make to alert the rest of a colony to danger. And contrary to what one might think, the name groundhog has nothing to do with wood. It is derived from the Algonquin name of the animal, wuchak. A fairly large groundhog could nevertheless throw wood.

3. Male and female groundhogs tend to occupy the same areas year after year. Females are usually left alone, with only about 10 percent overlap in late spring, as they try to expand their home range. Males tend to avoid other males as well, but they have much larger home ranges. Their territories can overlap up to three territories of females.

4. Groundhogs are generally born around mid-April. And after only two or three months, they are ready to go on their own. But about a third of young females stay home for almost a year, until mom gives birth to the next litter of babies. While Dad has his own burrow elsewhere, he visits each of his companions’ burrows every day until the infants disperse.

5. Groundhogs greet each other with a unique greeting. Groundhog number one walks up and touches its nose to groundhog number two’s mouth. Scientists call this behavior “nasolabial contact”.

6. Animals could be called Earthpigs, but they are quite good at climbing trees. So the next time you’re in groundhog territory, look up!

7. When it comes to accurately predicting the weather, the famous Punxsutawney Phil has only been correct about 36% of the time since 1969. That’s according to an analysis by meteorologists at Weather Underground. You would have a higher accuracy rate by simply flipping a coin. But no one will come to Punxsutawney to watch a raffle.

—Jason G. Goldman

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]


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