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Groundhog Gamble

Jan 26, 2020

"I'm coming out

I want the world to know

Got to let it show..."

Diana Ross

With their own holiday and the most watched weather forecast of the year, groundhogs have reigned through folklore as a predictor of how much winter is left in the season. On February 2nd, people watch to see if groundhogs will see their shadow. Yet, there's more to know about this famous rodent than having a special day dedicated to its shadow.

Also known as woodchucks, groundhogs spend the cold months in an underground burrow, hibernating winter away. They are often seen waddling along in summer and early fall gorging on plants before their winter's nap. Groundhogs are stout animals with strong legs built for digging. They are expert homebuilders that can sometimes complete a burrow in a single day.

Groundhogs are covered with a grizzly brown fur. They're one to two feet long, weighing up to 14 pounds. They are heaviest in the fall just before hibernation and awaken skinny in the spring, sometimes at half their fall weight.

Watch for their winter den in a wooded or brushy area. Here they'll build a complex tunnel system, complete with nest, front door and side entrances. By early November most groundhogs are already hibernating. Only after an uncommonly warm spell will a groundhog awaken and crawl out of its burrow. In this area, groundhogs begin emerging in February. Contrary to popular belief, they come out looking for plant growth rather than their shadows.

Groundhog Fun Facts:

  • 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.
  • When alarmed or suddenly disturbed, they can give a loud, shrill whistle sound.
  • The woodchuck is almost a complete vegetarian, eating leaves, flowers, grass stems, field crops and many kinds of wild herbs.
  • They're found statewide, but rare in the Mississippi Lowlands, where the water table is so high that denning sites are limited.
  • Woodchucks formerly were trapped for their fur, which was used for coats.

Discover more about groundhogs in our MDC Field Guide.

Watch the video below to learn the answer to "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

woodchuck_upright_11-15-11.jpg

groundhog standing on hind legs
Will the groundhog see its shadow?

MO DOC-2019-DNN Feb Wk 1 Groundhogs-MDOC1902-LF01.mp3

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Groundhog Day Explained

Find out how much wood a woodchuck could chuck
Find out how much wood a woodchuck could chuck

Groundhog weather cartoon.jpg

Groundhog weather cartoon
Groundhog weather cartoon

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