23 May 2007


We got us a groundhog. A pretty brave one, too. He's got no trouble strolling the grounds. And from reading the Wikipedia entry below, we likely have more than one in a burrow under our shed. I'm not at all sure how I feel about this. Oh, sure, they're cute, but they're a heck of a lot bigger than squirrels and those claws look a whole lot stronger than a cat's. On the plus side, he's eating a lot of the whirlybirds falling off the trees. So, that's nice.I guess this is part of the joy of living near a woodland habitat.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Species:M. monax
Binomial name
Marmota monax(Linnaeus, 1758)

The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as the woodchuck or whistlepig, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Most marmots, such as yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas, but the woodchuck is a lowland creature. It is widely distributed in North America and common in the northeastern and central United States. In the west it is found only in Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia and northern Washington.

[edit] Anatomy and behavior
The groundhog is the largest sciurid in its geographical range, typically measuring 40 to 65
cm (17 to 26 in) long (including a 15 cm tail) and weighing 2 to 4 kg (4.5 to 9 pounds). In areas with fewer natural predators and large quantities of alfalfa, groundhogs can grow to 80 cm (32 in) and 14 kg (30 lb). Groundhogs are well adapted for digging, with short but powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. The tail is only about one-fourth of body length, much shorter than that of other sciurids. Suited to their temperate habitat, groundhogs are covered with two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guard hairs that gives the groundhog its distinctive "frosted" appearance. Groundhogs, like other sciurids, have exceptionally dense cerebral bones. These bones make them able to survive direct blows to the head that would cripple other mammals of the same body mass. The spinal structure of the groundhog is curved in a manner that resembles a mole rather than other sciurids.
Groundhogs usually live from two to three years, but can live up to six years in the wild, and ten years in captivity. Their diet consists of grasses,
clover, Plantago, garden vegetables, leaves, twigs, apples, berries, and dandelion (Whitaker and Hamilton, 1998). They are not as omnivorous as many other sciurids, but will also eat grubs, grasshoppers, bugs, snails and other small animals.

A nearly-motionless individual, alert to danger, will whistle when alarmed to warn other groundhogs.
Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, using burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and
hibernating. The Wall Street Journal quotes wildlife expert Richard Thomas as calculating that the average groundhog moves approximately 1 m³ (35 cubic feet), or 320 kg (700 pounds), of dirt when digging a burrow. Though groundhogs are the most solitary of the marmots, the same burrow may be occupied by several individuals. Groundhog burrows generally have between two and five entrances, providing groundhogs their primary means of escape from predators. Burrows are particularly large, with up to 45 feet of tunnels buried up to 5 feet underground, and can pose a serious threat to agricultural and residential development by damaging farm machinery and even undermining building foundations.[1]
Groundhogs prefer to flee from would-be predators, and usually retreat to their burrows when threatened; however, if the burrow is invaded, the groundhog will tenaciously defend itself with its two large incisors and front claws. Additionally, groundhogs are generally antagonistic and territorial among their own species, and may skirmish to establish dominance.
Common predators for groundhogs include
wolves, coyotes, bobcats, bears, large hawks, and owls. Young groundhogs are often at risk for predation by snakes, which easily enter the burrow.
Outside their burrow, individuals are alert when not actively feeding. It is common to see one or more nearly-motionless individuals standing erect on their hind feet watching for danger. When alarmed, they use a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony.

Groundhogs feed on a variety of plants such as grass, clover, Plantago, and berries.
Usually groundhogs
breed in their second year, but a small percentage may breed as yearlings. The breeding season extends from early March to middle or late April, following hibernation. A mated pair will remain in the same den throughout the 28-32 day gestation period. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male will leave the den. One litter is produced annually, usually containing 2-6 blind, hairless and helpless young. Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own dens at five to six weeks of age.
The groundhog prefers open country and the edges of woodland, and it is rarely far from a burrow entrance. Since the clearing of
forests provided it with much more suitable habitat, the groundhog population is probably higher now than it was before the arrival of European settlers in North America. Groundhogs are often hunted for sport, which tends to control their numbers. However, their ability to reproduce quickly has tended to mitigate the depopulating effects of sport hunting.[1] As a consequence, the groundhog is a familiar animal to many people in the United States and Canada.
Groundhogs raised in captivity can be socialized relatively easily; however, their aggressive nature can pose problems. Doug Schwartz, a zookeeper and groundhog trainer at the
Staten Island Zoo, has been quoted as saying "They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. [Their] natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."[3]

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