Happy Groundhog Day, everyone! Every year on this day, we look to a gigantic rodent to see how much longer we’ll have to endure the cold. We all know the answer this year: even in Los Angeles, winter hasn’t been particularly cold. Which, to be honest, isn’t particularly wintery.
What Do Groundhogs Eat, according to legend, peeks out of its hole today to see if it has a shadow. If the sun shines brightly enough to cast a shadow, the groundhog will return to its burrow and winter will last another six weeks.
In honor of Groundhog Day, I’ve compiled a list of seven groundhog facts you probably didn’t know. One for each more week of winter we’ll have, plus one for good measure.
1. A groundhog by any other name is still a groundhog. Woodchucks, whistle-pigs, and land-beavers are some of the other names for groundhogs. When a groundhog is startled, he or she will emit a high-pitched whistle as a warning to the remainder of the colony, earning the moniker whistle-pig. Woodchuck is a name that has nothing to do with wood. Alternatively, throwing. It comes from the Algonquian word wuchak, which means “critter.”
2. Home is where the heart is. Groundhogs, both male and female, tend to return to the same territory year after year. Except in late spring and early summer, when females try to expand their territories, there is very little overlap between home ranges for females. Their ranges may overlap by as much as ten percent during this time. Males, too, have non-overlapping territories, albeit any male territory will overlap with one to three adult female territories.
3. Groundhog pups! After being born in mid-April, infants stay at home for only two to three months before dispersing and leaving mom’s burrow. However, a sizable percentage of females (35%) stay at home longer, leaving shortly after their first birthdays, just before mom’s new litter comes.
4. Values of the family Groundhog social groups typically comprise of one adult male and two adult females, each with a previous breeding season’s progeny (generally female) and the current litter of newborns. Within a female group, interactions are often cordial. However, interactions between female groups are uncommon and violent, even when those groups are shared by the same adult male. Despite the fact that Daddy Woodchuck does not dwell at home, he visits each of his female groups every day during the breeding season and the first month of the infants’ life.
Medical models are number five. Groundhogs are a good animal model for hepatitis B-induced liver cancer research. In fact, when infected with the Woodchuck Hepatitis B virus, the animal develops liver cancer invariably, making them useful for research on both liver cancer and hepatitis B.
6. Take a look up! Groundhogs can climb trees despite spending most of their lives on or under the ground.
Eskimo kisses are number seven. Groundhogs greet each other with an unusual form of the eskimo kiss: one groundhog approaches the other and presses his or her nose to the second groundhog’s mouth. They make “naso-oral contact,” as scientists term it.