It is about the size of a large domestic cat, though heavier. It lives on grass and is, also, very fond of melons and pumpkins…. When pursued and unable to reach its hole, the animal will climb a tree. The flesh is toothsome and eaten by the Indians.
David Zeisberger, History of the North American Indians, 1779-1780.
|Scientific Name:||Marmota monax|
|Habitat:||Forest edges and heavy brush areas.|
|Adult Weight:||7 - 13 lbs., male; 5 - 10 lbs., female|
|Adult Body Length:||18 - 22 inches, male; 16 - 20 inches, female|
|Breeding Period:||March - May|
|Litters Per Year:||1|
|Litter Size:||2 - 7, average 4-5|
|Life Expectancy:||2 - 3 years|
|Foods:||Typical foods: Herbivore - grasses, clover, alfalfa, soybeans, peas, lettuce and fruit|
The Woodchuck, or Groundhog, is the largest member of the squirrel family. It is capable of climbing trees if the need arises.
They are known for their extensive burrows. These tunnels have many branches and rooms, ranging from one to twelve feet long. To escape predators the tunnels have more than one entrance. Other animals, such as rabbits, opossums, skunks and foxes, will use deserted Woodchuck tunnels in which to live. Because of their digging habits, the Groundhog has caused problems for humans including damage to farm machinery and building foundations.
In the winter, Woodchucks enter their burrow to hibernate. While they are asleep, their body temperature drops to 43 - 57 º F. They are crepuscular. When they are alarmed, Woodchucks often gives a loud whistle. Because of this, they are sometimes called "whistlepigs."
The legend of the Groundhog and his shadow is the basis of Groundhog Day. It is said that on that day, February 2, the Groundhog will leave its burrow. If it sees its shadow, he returns to his den to wait out six more weeks of winter. However, if it's cloudy and it does not see its shadow, he remains outside because winter is over. There is no truth to the legend. Groundhogs in the southern United States do not hibernate and those in the far north do not come out of hibernation until April.
Groundhogs were very scarce in Ohio before settlers arrived. However, Woodchuck remains have been found at archaeological sites of the Late Woodland Culture.
With the clearing of the land to make way for homes and farms, settlers began to create ideal Woodchuck habitat.
Woodchucks were commonly hunted for food throughout the century.
In the beginning of the 1950s Groundhogs began to extend into more urban settings which had grassy areas around homes and roadways that were good habitat. They have urbanized themselves very well.
Today, few people hunt Woodchucks for meat, although it's said to taste very good. Groundhogs are hunted throughout the year in Ohio for sport and to control the population.