The Dynamic Digger – The Groundhog
By ame vanorio © All rights Reserved
With the ability to move 700 pounds of dirt an hour, the groundhog builds an impressive underground home that reaches 10 – 60 feet in length and may be three layers. Just like your house, the tunnels contain numerous chambers or rooms for sleeping, eating and bathroom facilities. Two to five entrances allow easy access and escape from predators.
You may know the Groundhog by several names including Woodchuck or Whistle-pig. The name woodchuck comes from the Algonquian word wejack . The woodchuck actually chucks no wood but is an herbivore, eating only plants such as grasses, vegetation, and occasionally grubs and snails. The term whistle-pig refers to the high pitched sound they emit to warn of danger.
Groundhogs are a rodent and part of the squirrel family and are found in Kentucky as well as much of North America. They live in a variety of terrain including pastures, woodlots and under barns. The clearing of forests and killing of predators by early settlers actually helped the groundhog expand their territory and become more populous. Humans, domestic dogs, foxes and coyotes are their primary predators. Groundhogs are territorial and males will fight with other males to establish dominance.
Groundhogs enjoy a good garden snack and their burrows can be dangerous to livestock. A loud radio tuned to your favorite heavy metal station may disturb them and cause them to move on. Repellents such as coyote urine are also effective. If they are raiding your garden a fence that extends underground a foot will help as well as clearing the surrounding area of brush or rock piles that give them opportunity to hide. That said the groundhog is actually fortuitous for the farmer as it aerates and mixes the soil increasing fertilization and soil health.
Groundhogs experiences true hibernation from late fall to early spring. Their heart rate and core body temperature drop and they go into a torpor. They hibernate in a deep chamber below the frost line. Male groundhogs may wake up when it is still cold in February to look for love by making house calls on nearby ladies! After determining who his potential suitors are he goes back to sleep and awakes in March for mating season.
Groundhogs live asocial, solitary lives except when mating and raising young. Young are born in April and May after a gestation of 31 days. They have a small range and stay fairly close to their burrows.
Groundhogs do not get rabies. Their liver is very similar to humans and they do get hepatitis and are used in medical research. We treat several groundhogs a year that are hit by cars or have had a tussle with a dog.
All we who prefer to live
Have a little whistle we give,
And flash, at the least alarm
We dive down under the farm.
Robert Frost “A Drumlin Woodchuck”
Ame Vanorio is the Founder/Director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center located in Falmouth, KY. Fox Run is a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to educate the public about environmental concerns and serve as a wildlife rehabilitation facility.