Woodchuck (Groundhog)


Marmota monax
Sciuridae (squirrels) in the order Rodentia

This common Missouri rodent has short, powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy, and somewhat flattened tail. The long, coarse fur of the back is a grizzled grayish brown with a yellowish or reddish cast. Woodchucks weigh least in spring when they are just out of hibernation and most in fall prior to hibernation. When alarmed or suddenly disturbed, they can give a loud, shrill whistle.

Total length: 16–27 inches; tail length: 4–7 inches; weight: 4–14 pounds.
Habitat and conservation: 
Woodchucks dig burrows along borders between timbered areas and open land or along fencerows, heavily vegetated gullies, or streams. The main entrance is often by a tree stump or rock and is usually conspicuous because of a pile of freshly excavated earth. Side entrances are smaller and better hidden. Tunnels lead to an enlarged chamber 3-6 feet underground containing the nest. Where woodchucks are too plentiful, consult a competent person who is acquainted with state and federal laws.
The woodchuck is almost a complete vegetarian, eating leaves, flowers, and soft stems of various grasses, of field crops such as clover and alfalfa, and of many kinds of wild herbs. Certain garden crops like peas, beans, and corn are favorites. They occasionally climb trees to obtain apples and pawpaws.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide, but rare in the Mississippi Lowlands, where the water table is so high that denning sites are limited.
Common. One of the best-known wild mammals in Missouri, the woodchuck is a rodent in the squirrel family. The name “woodchuck” is possibly derived from an Algonquian Indian name for this species. They are also sometimes called "whistle pigs" for their loud alarm whistles. The woodchuck is in the same genus (Marmota) as the yellow-bellied marmot and hoary marmot, which are well-known in western states.
Life cycle: 
Woodchucks hibernate in their burrows from late October to sometime in February. Breeding commences soon after they emerge. Pregnancy lasts 31–33 days; the single, annual litter of 2–9 young arrives toward the end of March. At birth, the 4-inch young are naked, blind, and helpless; the eyes open after 4 weeks. They start going outside at 6–7 weeks old. By midsummer, the young weigh about 4 pounds and may dig temporary burrows before moving farther away to establish their own homes.
Human connections: 
Woodchuck fur was once used for fur coats. The flesh of young, lean animals is good food. Because they are one of the few large mammals abroad in daylight, many people enjoy seeing them. Their burrowing makes them unwelcome in cemeteries and where earthen dams hold back lake water.
Ecosystem connections: 
The woodchuck’s importance as a builder of homes for other animals is significant: skunks, foxes, weasels, opossums,and rabbits all use woodchuck burrows for their dens. Also, as they move tremendous quantities of subsoil as they dig, woodchucks contribute much to the aeration and mixing of soil.
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