Happy Groundhog Day, fine folks! Today is when we look towards a rodent to find out how much more winter we’ll have to endure.
Legend states the groundhog looks out of its burrow today to see if it has a shadow. If it is sunny enough for a shadow, the groundhog will return to the comfort of the den, and winter goes on an additional six weeks.
In honor of the holiday, we’ve rounded up seven tidbits about groundhogs that are likely to be new to you. One for each additional week of winter that’s been forecasted, plus one extra for good measure
1. How much wood?
Groundhogs are also called whistle-pigs, land-beavers, and more commonly, the woodchuck. The nickname ‘whistle-pig’ comes from the fact that, when frightened, a groundhog emits a high-pitched whistle warning to the rest of the lot. The term ‘woodchuck’ has nothing to do with wood. Or chucking. It comes from the Algonquian name, wuchak.
2. Home on the range
Both males and females occupy the same territories generationally. There is minimal overlap between home ranges for female woodchucks except for the late spring and early summer months, as females generally try to expand territories. During this time, ranges may overlap by as much as 10%. Males also have territories that do not overlap, though any male territory usually coincides with between one and three adult female territories.
3. Bundles of joy!
After being born in April, young stick around their home range for only about two or three months. After this, they leave mom’s burrow and disperse. However, at least thirty-five percent of females stick around longer than that, leaving home just after their first birthdays, right before a new litter.
4. Family tradition
Typically, groundhog family groups consist of one male and two females, each toting a litter from the previous breeding season (usually consisting of all females) and their current young. Interactions within a female’s group are friendly for the most part. However, interactions between female groups, even when the same male shares those groups, are rare and aggressive. Even though Papa Woodchuck doesn’t live at home, he visits each of his females and their litter daily.
5. Models of good health
Strangely enough, the groundhog happens to be a good animal for the study of hepatitis B-related liver cancer. Suppose a woodchuck is infected with the hepatitis B virus. In that case, the animal always develops liver cancer, making them integral for the study of both hepatitis b and liver cancer.
6. Looking up
Groundhogs can, in fact, climb trees, though they spend most of their time on and under the ground.
7. Kiss Kiss
Groundhogs greet each other with their own version of the Eskimo kiss: a groundhog approaches another and touches their nose to the mouth of the second groundhog. Or, as scientists call it, they make “naso-oral contact.”