The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as the woodchuck, land beaver, or the whistle pig, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae. It belongs to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Most marmots live in rocky and mountainous areas, but the woodchuck is a lowland creature. It is widely distributed in North America. It is found in Alaska, Alabama, and Georgia. In the west it is found only in Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia and northern Washington.
Anatomy and Behavior
Groundhogs are typically 17 to 26 in (40 to 65 cm) long and weigh 4.41 to 8.82 lbs (2 to 4 kg). In areas with fewer natural predators and large quantities of alfalfa, they can grow to 32 in (80 cm) and 30 lb (14 kg). They can live up to six years in the wild, and ten years in captivity.
The groundhog is one of a small number of species that have grown greatly in numbers since the arrival of European settlers in North America. The clearing of forests provided it with much more suitable habitat. It prefers open country and the edges of woodland. It is a familiar animal to many people in the United States and Canada.
Groundhogs are excellent burrowers. They use burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating. The burrows generally have two exits, and the groundhog rarely ventures far from one of them for safety. The groundhog is known to viciously defend its burrow when invaded by predators such as skunks, foxes, weasels or domestic dogs. It can inflict quite a bit of damage with its two large incisors and front claws, especially when the predator is at a disadvantage inside the burrow.
Usually groundhogs breed in their second year, but a small percentage may breed as yearlings. The breeding season extends from early March to middle or late April, following hibernation. A mated pair will remain in the same den throughout the 28 to 32 day gestation period. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male will leave the den. One litter is produced annually. It usually contains 2 to 6 blind, naked and helpless young. Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own dens at five to six weeks of age.
In the United States and Canada, there is a Groundhog Day celebration that gives the groundhog some added popularity.