Happy almost Groundhog Day!
This Saturday, February 2, one little rodent will be thrust into the spotlight and given his annual 15 minutes of fame. Unlike lions, tigers and many other mammals, groundhogs are widely thought of as garden pests, rather than interesting creatures.
Yet one day each year, groundhogs are given some respect. On February 2, Punxatawney Phil (and other weather-forecasting groundhogs around the country) is expected to predict the future. Will he see his shadow, banishing us to 6 more weeks of frigid weather? Or will the little guy look down and see nothing but the ground, giving us hope for sunshine and warmth in the weeks to come?
Groundhog Or Woodchuck?
<a href="http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/2.1.96/facts.html">Groundhogs and woodchucks</a> are actually the same thing. (They also go by whistle-pigs, but we will get to that later.)
Woodchuck Is A Misnomer
According to Scientific American, <a href="http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2012/02/02/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-groundhogs/">the term “woodchuck” has nothing to do with chuckin’ wood</a>, but rather stems from the Algonquin name for the animal, <em>wuchak</em>. In fact, their diets mostly consist of plants, fruits and tree bark.
However, The Name "Groundhog" Is Not
Calling this guy a "groundhog" is a lot more straightforward than “woodchuck.” National Geographic explains that <a href="http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/groundhog/">the furry rodents spend the summer gorging themselves</a>, get pretty plump (almost hog-like, one might say), and then spend the rest of the year <a href="http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/all-about-animals/hibernation1.htm">hibernating underground</a>.
Their Fur Has A History
You probably won’t see groundhog coats on the runway anytime soon (thankfully). However, the Cornell Chronicle notes that their hairs were once integral to the American Indians, who <a href="http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/2.1.96/facts.html">used woodchuck hides to make moccasin soles</a>.
They Have Been Very Helpful To The Medical Community
Woodchucks hold a very special place in the heart of scientists at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. For over 15 years, <a href="http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/2.1.96/groundhog.html">medical breakthroughs in liver disease prevention</a> have been made through studying groundhogs.
They Are Pretty Fantastic Swimmers And Climbers
<a href="http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/6-things-most-people-dont-know-about-groundhog-day">Groundhogs may look slow and pudgy</a>, but you would be amazed to see how well they can shimmy up a tree or paddle across a lake.
These Guys Whistle While They Work
As mentioned in the first slide, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2316-100_162-1273934-6.html">groundhogs are sometimes referred to as “whistle-pigs,”</a> since they whistle when they are alarmed... and when they are looking to catch a lady. Play the video to listen.
They Should Be Living Every Day As Their Last (Except For Phil)
According to the University of Michigan’s museum of zoology, <a href="http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Marmota_monax.html">groundhogs can only live about 4-6 years in the wild</a>, and up to 10 years in captivity. However, <a href="http://www.groundhog.org/groundhog-day/fun-facts/">Punxsutawney Phil supposedly drinks a “magical” elixir</a> at the Groundhog Day picnic, which some insist has kept him alive for more than 126 years!
Also On The Huffington Post...
Groundhog co-handler John Griffiths discusses the origins of Groundhog Day and how the groundhog decides if it's winter for six more weeks or an early spring.