The Dynamic Digger - The Groundhog

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.

Whats in a Name? 

You may know the Groundhog (Marmota monax) by several names including Woodchuck or Whistle-pig. The name woodchuck comes from the Algonquian word wejack and is more commonly said in the Northeast. The woodchuck actually chucks no wood but is an herbivore, eating only plants such as grasses, vegetation, and occasionally grubs and snails.  They do chew bark but do not cut down a tree like a beaver.

The term groundhog is used in the Midwest and whistle pig or just "piggies" is often used in the southern states. The term whistle-pig refers to the high pitched sound they emit to warn of danger. 

Family Tree

Groundhogs are rodents and part of the squirrel family.  They are found in Kentucky as well as much of North America. They live in a variety of terrain including pastures, woodlots and infamously 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 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.

Yum, Yum!

Groundhogs enjoy a good garden snack and their burrows can be dangerous to livestock. A loud radio tuned to your favorite heavy metal rock 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 the 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.

Grandmother Woodchuck

Grandmother Woodchuck is part of the Abenaki Native American mythology. Grandmother Woodchuck was very wise. She is the grandmother of Glooskap, a hero among the tribes. Glooskap is a bit of a trickster and Grandmother Woodchuck must continually guide and teach him. 

Night, Night. Sleep Tight.


Dr. Nathan Glaza with Ponyo

Groundhogs have a liver that is very similar to humans. Groundhogs get woodchuck hepatitis and are used in medical research. People can not get hepatitis B from groundhogs but medical researchers have been able to draw conclusions that have helped with treatment.

Night, Night. Sleep Tight.

Groundhogs experience 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.

How Groundhogs Help Us and We Help Them

Like other mammals, a groundhog can get rabies, however, it is not considered a vector species in Kentucky. Groundhogs have a liver that is very similar to humans. Groundhogs get woodchuck 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. These groundhogs are released in our backfield when they are eating big kid food and showing appropriate fear and aggression.

This year we acquired a vision-impaired groundhog from another rehabber. She will be an education animal. Give us a call if you want Ponyo to come and give a presentation. 



Our education groundhog is blind but still enjoys going outside



A Drumlin Woodchuck by Robert Frost

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.