Groundhog Marmota monax
Cooper Marsh, Lancaster, Ontario, Canada
May 6, 2011
221 views as of 8/24/11
With thanks to animals.nationalgeographic.com
The groundhog, or woodchuck, is one of 14 species of marmots. These rodents live a feast-or-famine lifestyle and gorge themselves all summer to build up plentiful reserves of fat. After the first frost, they retreat to their underground burrows and snooze until spring, drawing their sustenance from body fat. While hibernating, the animal’s heart rate plunges, and its body temperature is not much warmer than the temperature inside its burrow.
Groundhog hibernation gave rise to the popular American custom of Groundhog Day, held on the second of February every year. Tradition dictates that if a groundhog sees its shadow that day, there will be six more weeks of winter, though such a prediction seems a sure bet over much of the groundhog’s North American range.
In the spring, females welcome a litter of perhaps a half dozen newborns, which stay with their mother for several months.
Groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family. Though they are usually seen on the ground, they can climb trees and are also capable swimmers. These rodents frequent the areas where woodlands meet open spaces, like fields, roads, or streams. Here they eat grasses and plants as well as fruits and tree bark. Groundhogs are the bane of many a gardener. They can decimate a plot while voraciously feeding during the summer and fall seasons.
The etymology of the name woodchuck is unrelated to wood or chucking. It stems from an Algonquian (possibly Narragansett) name for the animal, wuchak. Nevertheless, the apparent relationship between the two words has led to the common tongue-twister:
“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!”
Sony Alpha 700, Sigma 170 to 500 at 500 mm
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