About groundhogs: Appearance, biology, life cycle, habitat, diet, behavior

In the United States, February 2nd is a cultural event called Tennessee Groundhog Day which is considered the most popular rodent-based weather forecast, started in the 1880s by a group of friends in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania when they went into the woods to look for groundhogs on Candlemas Day. In 1887, the prediction sought from the groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil, became an official event. Every year, this ceremony would take place in which the start of Spring would begin, if Punxsutawney Phil came out of hibernation on that day and did not see his shadow. Should the rodent see its shadow, the legend or superstition states that there will be six more weeks of winter.

The truth is, Nashville groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, forest marmot, or whistle pigs, hibernate for the winter, and seeing them coming out from the ground, are indicative of Spring. Also, should you see your shadow during the winter, means that the sky does not have any clouds overhead which will insulate the earth and the day is usually very cold.

Appearance of Nashville Groundhogs:
Groundhogs come from the family of squirrels but are larger in size, measuring between 16 to 20 inches in length. They do not sport the bushy tail as would a squirrel, but their bodies are covered with a brownish-gray or white fur coat.

Biology of Groundhogs:
They facial features of groundhogs, such as its eyes, nose and ears, are positioned to the top of their heads. This enables them to stay inside their burrow while the sniff or search for food sources. Their spinal cords are curved, similar to that of moles, enabling them to maintain a perfect posture when they dig. The rest of their limbs are ideally suited for hunting, short and powerful with thickly curved claws.

Life Cycle of Groundhogs:
Mating season for groundhogs begin shortly after winter hibernation, usually from mid-March to late-April, approximately 2 years after birth. Gestation usually takes between 28 to 32 days where both male and female mates would share a den. Before the birth of the babies, the male groundhog would leave the den. Female groundhogs would produce a litter of 2 to 6 babies, all born blind, helpless and furless. Weaning takes a duration of 5 to 6 weeks when they would move out and seek their own dens. Groundhogs survive for 6 to 14 years.

Habitat of Groundhogs:
Groundhogs live in dens or burrows that are usually located in bushy or wooded areas. They dig burrows up to 14 meters wide and well below the frost line, approximately 5 feet, so that they can maintain a stable temperature during the brutally cold winter months. Hibernation starts from October and can continue for 3 months or until April. Winter burrows are usually different from breeding dens but they both act as a retreat from prey or especially bad temperature.

Diet of Groundhogs:
Primarily omnivores, groundhogs mostly feed on wild grass, agricultural crops, berries and other types of vegetation. However, they are also known to eat grub such as insects, grasshoppers, snails and even bird eggs.

Behavior of Groundhogs:
Except during mating, weaning and breeding seasons, groundhogs are asocial creatures, seeking refuge in their burrows when they sense threats. They warn their colony members of these threats by emitting a high-pitched whistle and to escape their predators, they can climb trees and are very good at swimming.

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