Groundhogs Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (2024)

Groundhogs Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (1)

Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash.

Groundhog (Marmota monax): one of 14 species of marmots, a group of large ground squirrels

AKA: woodchuck, groundpig, whistlepig

Kingdom: | Animalia
Phylum: | Chordata
Class: | Mammalia
Order: | Rodentia
Family: | Sciuridae
Genus: | Marmota
Species: | M. monax

Groundhog Day History:

In the United States and Canada, Groundhog Day is a popular tradition celebrated every year on February 2. The holiday stems from a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition. It is believed that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks. If it does not see its shadow, spring will arrive early.

The most attended Groundhog Day ceremony is held at Punxsutawney in western Pennsylvania, centering around a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil.

Groundhog Day first appeared in the local Punxsutawney newspaper in 1886, according to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website. The celebration has grown in size and popularity since its first celebration.

Size and Weight: A groundhog can weigh up to about 13 pounds and has a body length of up to 20 inches. It has a bushy tail up to 7 inches long.

Fur: Groundhogs have thick fur that ranges in various shades of brown. Their feet are darker, and their underparts are buff. Melanistic and albino individuals sometimes occur in some populations.

Diet: Groundhogs are vegetarian. They eat grasses, other green plants, some fruits, and the bark and buds of trees. They feed heavily in summer and early fall, accumulating huge fat reserves for their winter hibernation.

According to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a groundhog may pack in more than a pound of vegetation at one sitting during the warm season. This is similar to a 150-pound man scarfing down a 15-pound steak.

Habitat: Groundhogs are most commonly found along forest edges, meadows, open fields, roads and streams. They sometimes also live in dense forests.

Although groundhogs dig deep and extensive burrow systems, they are also good swimmers and can climb tall shrubs and trees.

Geography: Groundhogs are found from the eastern and central United States northward across Canada and into Alaska.

Lifespan: In the wild, groundhogs can live up to six years with two or three being average. In captivity, groundhogs reportedly live up to 14 years.

Breeding: Groundhogs tend to be solitary except in the spring when a litter of four to six young are born. Litters of one to nine have been recorded. The young stay with the mother for two to three months.

Hibernation: The animal is one of a few true hibernators. It curls into what appears to be a lifeless ball. Its body temperature can drop from about 99 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 37 F, according to NWF. Its heart rate slows from about 80 beats per minute to 5 and its breathing slows from around 16 breaths per minute to as few as 2.

During this time, about 150 days without eating, a woodchuck will lose no more than a fourth of its body weight, according to NWF. This is possible due to all the energy saved by the lower metabolism.

Conservation Status: The groundhog is classified as a species of least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In some areas, groundhogs are so numerous that they are regarded as pests. Their digging activities damage gardens and other surface vegetation.

Threats: Groundhogs are preyed upon by several animals, such as wolves, coyotes, dogs, foxes, bobcats, lynxes and black bears. Birds of prey and snakes also prey on groundhogs.

Additional Facts:

  • Punxsutawney Phil’s seasonal predictions are not always accurate. In fact, Stormfax calculated that Phil has seen a 39% forecasting success rate since 1887.
  • Groundhogs whistle at potential mates, which is why they are also known as “whistlepigs.”
  • Groundhogs build intricate homes. Their underground burrows include multiple “rooms” with different purposes, including a sleeping chamber, a nursery chamber, and a waste chamber. It can stretch anywhere from eight to 66 feet long.
  • Few animals hibernate as long as groundhogs. They hibernate from late fall to late winter or early spring, which can add up to as many as six months of deep sleep.
  • Despite their intense hibernation habits, male groundhogs may wake up early to start looking for potential mates. They typically roam within 2-3 acres outside of their own burrow. According to NWF, mating does not take place at this time. The visits likely allow the animals to get to know each other before breeding in March.
  • To accommodate its large appetite, woodchucks grow upper and lower incisors that can withstand wear and tear because they grow about a sixteenth of an inch each week, according to NWF.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Groundhogs Fact Sheet | Blog | Nature | PBS (2024)


What are 5 interesting facts about groundhogs? ›

5 Fun Facts About Groundhogs
  • Groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family.
  • Although they are usually seen on the ground, they can climb trees and swim.
  • Groundhogs are considered a true hibernator. ...
  • Groundhog burrows can be as deep as 6 feet and as large as 20 feet or more.
Feb 2, 2023

How many groundhogs usually live together? ›

Like many animals, groundhogs are typically solitary, only coming together to mate. They do have a rather unusual greeting, however, in those rare times when they meet each other.

Are groundhogs good or bad for your yard? ›

Besides eating your garden, a groundhog's digging can damage a home's foundation, dislodge a retaining wall and create holes large enough for your mower to fall into. A common problem on farmsteads is livestock or people breaking their legs when they step into a groundhog hole.

What do groundhogs do all day? ›

Groundhogs spend most of their time underground in complex burrow systems, which they dig in dry, well-drained soil. Most of the time groundhogs dig their burrows in areas with nearby cover such as fencerows, hedgerows, beside structures, home foundations or trees.

What is a groundhog's favorite food? ›

Favorite foods include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lettuce, broccoli, plantain, and soybeans. Groundhogs will often devour your seedlings before they even have time to grow. Rabbits and deer eat some of the same plants, so make sure to check for burrows before concluding that you have groundhogs.

How many groundhogs live in a burrow? ›

For a greater part of the year, burrow occupancy is limited to one groundhog per unit. Exceptions occur when males visit the burrows of females during a late winter breeding season, and consequently, following a 32-day gestation period, when females give birth to four to six kits.

What month do groundhogs have babies? ›

The breeding season extends from early March to late April, after hibernation. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 32-day gestation period. The male leaves the den as birth of the young approaches, in April or May. One litter is produced annually, usually containing two to six blind and hairless babies.

What does it mean when a groundhog is in your yard? ›

Groundhogs will readily come into your yard searching for food and a safe place to burrow. Therefore, you should take some steps to make your yard less attractive to this wildlife and to reduce the damage, for example, harvesting your garden crops as soon as possible to limit their food sources.

How can you tell a male groundhog from a female? ›

They have short legs and a bushy tail. Groundhogs have short, powerful limbs and thick claws. They have small ears and black eyes. Males are typically larger than females.

What do groundhogs hate the most? ›

What do groundhogs hate the most? Groundhogs hate the smells of pepper, garlic, rosemary, lavender, cayenne, talcum powder, basil, chives, mint, sage, thyme and oregano.

What is the lifespan of a groundhog? ›

Survival. Groundhogs can climb trees to escape predators. In the wild, groundhogs can live up to six years with two or three being average. In captivity, groundhogs reportedly live up to 14 years.

Do groundhogs come out at night? ›

Many people believe that groundhogs come out of their dens during the night and look for food at night only. However, this is false, groundhogs are not nocturnal. In fact, they are very active during the day, but they still roam outside their dens in the night.

What is groundhog's worst enemy? ›

The primary predators of groundhogs are hawks, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, dogs and humans. However, motorized vehicles kill many groundhogs each year.

Do groundhogs have two entrances? ›

Groundhogs spend most of their time in their underground burrows, which have one main entrance that can be identified by a large mountain of excavated soil immediately outside the entrance hole. The burrow also has one to four auxiliary entrances. All groundhog burrows are basically laid out in the same way.

What are baby groundhogs called? ›

Baby groundhogs go by several names. They can be called pups, kits, and cubs. Groundhogs usually give birth to litters with around three to six pups, though they can occasionally give birth to 10 young in some litters. Adult groundhogs are also called woodchucks and even whistlepigs.

What surprising skills do groundhogs have? ›

But did you know that there's more to these critters than just their ability to predict the weather? Here are some interesting facts about groundhogs: Groundhogs are excellent diggers. They have powerful legs and sharp claws that they use to dig burrows that can be up to 30 feet long and 6 feet deep.

Why are groundhogs so special? ›

5. Groundhogs are among the few species of true hibernators. This is the part of their behavior that has led to North American Groundhog Day tradition. After losing up to half their weight while hibernating, groundhogs usually emerge from their winter burrows in February—hence the date of this holiday.

Are groundhogs very smart? ›

Groundhogs are an extremely intelligent animal, forming complex social networks, able to understand social behavior, form kinship with their young, understand and communicate threats through whistling, and work cooperatively to solve tasks such as burrowing.

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