The Real Story Behind Groundhog Day

The Woodchuck (Marmota monax) is the largest member of the Squirrel family (Sciuridae) and the 2nd largest North American rodent.  Its other common name, Groundhog, relates to the fact that this rotund fellow makes its home in an underground burrow.  Burrows often have two entrances allowing for quick entry and escape as protection from predation. The name Woodchuck comes from the Algonquin name for this critter, wuchak. woodchuck_2

But how did the Woodchuck get associated with the coming of Spring? Its ability to foretell the start of the warming season is not so much about a talent for meteorology but more about reproduction. The Woodchuck is a true hibernator, so its metabolic processes slow considerably in Winter allowing it to survive during the time of year when its main food sources (greens and grubs) are not readily available. However, the irresistible urge to mate seems to awaken this Marmot in mid-Winter when the males will come out of their burrows searching out available females. Once they find a gal or two, the pair will hang out together for a day or so but apparently do not mate (otherwise the babies would be born long before adequate food supplies are available for both their mother and themselves). Instead it would appear the Woodchucks “make a date” for coupling once Spring weather truly takes hold, from late February through early April depending on what latitude the animals live.

So this is how humans began to use the Woodchuck to foretell the coming of Spring because when these rodents were seen in mid-Winter, folks figured Spring would be soon at hand.

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