Wild Profile: Meet the groundhog

By Fiona M. Donnelly/Shutterstock

Groundhog Day is in February, sure, but these tubby marmot weather forecasters are actually busiest—emerging from hibernation, mating, and having babies—in the spring. Groundhogs (a.k.a. woodchucks) are one of North America’s largest rodents. They’re squat and slow-moving, with a top running speed of 15 km/h. They are, however, very good at digging holes.

Woodchucks chuck dirt, not wood. When they’re not eating or sunning themselves, they’re below ground, in the multi-roomed, multi-tunnelled burrows they’ve excavated as their summer living quarters. The 10-metre-long chambers can include a room for sleeping or for a baby nursery, a toilet nook, and at least one or two tunnels connected to “plunge holes.” These holes function as quick escape routes separate from the burrow’s main entrance.

Trivia alert! Groundhogs are usually brown, but some, for genetic reasons, are either albino (think Wiarton Willie), or completely black. Like black panthers—the animals, not the superhero—and silver foxes, black-furred groundhogs are melanistic: they have an unusually high level of the pigment melanin in their coats.

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