Groundhog, Woodchuck


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Common Name
Groundhog, Woodchuck
Category
Mammals
ScientificName
Marmota monax
Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Rodentia
Family
Sciuridae
Genus
Marmota
Species
monax
SubSpecies

 

Description
Brown to brownish gray fur; paler underneath; white tips on hair give frosted look; chunky build; short neck; rounded ears; short snout with white fur around nose; short legs with hind legs longer than front; brown or black feet; four toes on front feet, five toes on back feet; well developed claws; short furry tail; large white front teeth; 22 teeth
Size
16 – 20 in. (40.64 – 50.8 cm) head and body length; 5 – 7 in. (12.7 – 17.78 cm) long tail; 5 – 10 lb. (2.268 – 4.536 kg) weight 
Ecological Role
Groundhogs are herbivores, eating primarily grass and plant matter. Old groundhog burrows provide places for other mammals such as opossums, rabbits, and skunks to live or to seek refuge if being chased. The number of available second hand dens may directly affect the rabbit population. Foxes, coyotes, hawks, and snakes prey upon groundhogs.
Fun Facts
  • A groundhog is typically above ground only a few hours a day. February 2 is known as Groundhog Day and it is thought that if the groundhog sees its shadow on that day, there will be six more weeks of winter. Whether or not the groundhog sees its shadow on Groundhog Day does not really affect the weather.
  • Groundhogs are excellent diggers, climbers, and swimmers. Groundhogs are able to climb trees for escape or for food, and they are able to swim across rivers. The names groundhog and woodchuck refer to the same animal and are used interchangeably. It may also be called the whistle pig because of the high-pitched whistle it can make.
  • Like the beaver, groundhog's front teeth continually grow throughout their life. Gnawing on leaves and grasses helps control the length of the teeth so that they do not become too long and ineffective for eating.
  • Groundhogs are game animals. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources regulates the hunting of groundhogs. The hunter must have a license to legally take a groundhog.
Food
Clover, apples, asters, buckwheat, buttercups, dandelion leaves, goldenrod, oats, plantains, raspberries, strawberries, vetch, wheat, and garden crops such as beans, beet tops, cabbage, corn, kale, and turnip tops; sometimes pawpaws, bark of shrubs and saplings, and some insects, such as June bugs and grasshoppers
Cover
Burrows an elaborate system of tunnels and chambers 3 – 6 ft. (91.44 – 182.9 cm) deep; 25 – 45 ft. (762 – 1372 cm) long; two or more entrances, usually one hole is dug above ground with a visible mound of dirt; other holes are dug from below the ground with mound of dirt on the inside and less visible to predators; nest is a chamber in tunnel system, made of dried grass 
Nest
 
Breeding
March – April; males ready to breed when they come out of hibernation; male woodchucks may battle one another using teeth during the breeding season; males may mate with more than one female; young are born 3 – 4 weeks after mating 
Eggs
 
Habitat
Open forests, forest edges, fencerows, rocky areas, roadsides, meadows, pastures; less common in deep forest
Kentucky Distribution
Statewide; more predominant in eastern half of state
Life Cycle
 
Life Span
 
Life Stage
 
Reproduction
 
Seasonal Changes
The groundhog begins storing fat at end of summer and starts spending less time above ground as fall approaches. They are in hibernation by October and will usually seal off the nest chamber so other animals that might use the burrow during winter do not disturb them. The groundhog's heartbeat and breathing slows and their body temperature drops during hibernation. Groundhogs start to emerge from hibernation in February or March. Males emerge days or weeks earlier than females.
Spawning
 
Status
Common
Uses
 
Voice
Whistle when alarmed or threatened; grunts while eating; growls when fighting
Young
Born April – May; 2 – 6 per litter; 1 litter per year; young are called chucklings; born with eyes closed and no hair; grow fur at two weeks; eyes open at 4 weeks; go out on own at 6 weeks; leave family group at midsummer to establish solitary burrow; may live up to 5 years in the wild 
What We Can Do
Although the groundhog is sometimes considered a pest, other animals often use their burrows for hibernating sites and cover. An alternative to killing the animal is to alter their habitat by using devices such as aluminum pans strung on a line or a scarecrow.
Host
 
Diagnosis and Control
 
Interesting Facts
 
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