I believe the woodchuck (a.k.a. groundhog or whistle pig) is an animal you either love or hate. I don’t know if there is any middle ground, but I may be wrong. With Groundhog Day soon upon us, it seems a good time to learn more about this native Iowa mammal.
First we must realize that Punxsutawney Phil is not the only groundhog that exits his burrow around or on February 2 each year. Many males do the same, but it is not to look for their shadow and predict the coming spring. Instead, they leave their burrows and take a look around their territory to find any females that may be in the area. Once he knows where the females have their burrows, he goes back to his for a little extra hibernation time. In March, males and females will emerge again to mate. Other than mating season and the short time females raise young, woodchucks are solitary animals.
Woodchucks live in underground burrows. The scientific term for animals living underground is fossorial. During the summer and fall, woodchucks spend a great deal of time above ground feeding on fruits, seeds, and greens in an effort to fatten up for hibernation. They will use this extra fat during their long winter hibernation when food is not available.
These animals are true hibernators. Their heart rate and body temperature fall very low during these months. Body temperature can fall as low at 41 degrees, and the heart rate can be as low as five beats per minute at times.
When they are not eating, they are likely preparing their burrow. These burrows can range from eight to sixty-six feet long, contain many levels and chambers, and have multiple exits. One area of the burrow will be strictly for hibernation. They have another chamber used for a summer home, which offers easier access to the surface. They even have separate chambers used only as bathrooms.
I will end with one interesting fact about woodchucks. Did you know they are closely related to squirrels and are pretty proficient climbers?