Discover Nature NotesMore posts

Groundhogs and their Day

Jan 27, 2019

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?"

Groundhog weather cartoon.jpg

Groundhog weather cartoon
Groundhog weather cartoon

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

Discover Nature Notes Radio
Hear about our famous weather forecaster and expert home builder

Groundhog Day Explained

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

groundhog.jpg

A groundhog stands on its hind legs to look around its surroundings.
Groundhog
In summer, groundhogs stuff their furry faces with plants to fatten up for winter.

Recent Posts

Spring Forests

Apr 14, 2019

Forests are energy factories! Discover what's blooming and who's moving in Missouri forests this spring in this week's Discover Nature Note.

Eastern Meadowlark Singing

Meadowlark Melodies

Apr 07, 2019

Eastern and Western meadowlarks sing a different tune, but both birds can be found in grasslands. They sing from perches and nest on the ground. Learn their different songs and find help identifying bird features in this week's Discover Nature Note.

mussels

Freshwater Mussels

Mar 31, 2019

Freshwater mussels are a powerhouse for cleaning our waters. They have a fantasia-like way of reproducing with the help of host fish. Discover their power and risks, and how you can help protect them in this week's Discover Nature Note.

Field Guide

Discovering nature from A-Z is one click away

Recipes

You had fun hunting, catching or gathering your quarry—now have more fun cooking and eating it.
Check out the recipes