Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2018

Have You Spotted Our Neighborhood Whistlepig Yet?

By Jacquie Bokow

I didn’t know what the animal was that was crawling up the steps beside our house.  At first I thought it was a beaver, but its tail wasn’t flat.  Then I realized, even though I’d never seen one before:  it was a groundhog.  I’ve since seen it — more than once — crossing Lombardy Road near Lockridge Drive around dusk.

The groundhog (Marmota monax, to be precise) is basically a giant ground squirrel.  It’s also known as a woodchuck, land beaver, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig (for their tendency to emit short, high-pitched whistles to alert others to danger), whistler, thickwood badger (to differentiate it from the prairie badger), Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, and red monk.

Photo from Havaheart
According to National Geographic, the name woodchuck doesn’t have anything to do with wood.  It’s thought to be a corruption of the Native American words wejack, woodshaw, or woodchoock.  It may have its roots in the Algonquian (or perhaps Narragansett) name for the animal: wuchak, which meant “the digger.”

Young groundhogs are called “chucklings.”

Groundhogs are skilled at both climbing and swimming, which helps them to escape predators.

The Famous Tongue-Twister
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

A groundhog burrow is complex.  It is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line so it remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during winter.  This burrow can be up to 60 feet long, with multiple exits, several levels, and a number of chambers, including one used as a “bathroom.”  It surprises me that whistlepigs can make homes in our neighborhood at all; I’ve found clay so hard only six inches under the grass that it looks like solid brick.  That whistlepigs have such strong claws they can dig three feet down through that is remarkable.

Groundhog habitat in North America

Woodchucks are basically loners, keeping fairly solitary for most of the year and only getting together to breed.

Groundhogs are diurnal (active during the day) from spring to fall.  Most activity occurs during the early morning and early evening hours, when they emerge from their burrows to find food.

In the wild, groundhogs live three to six years; in captivity, nine to 14.

Groundhogs are true hibernators, going into a dormant state — in which their body temperature and heart rate fall dramatically, the former to less than 68°F — from late fall until late winter or early spring.  So they should be out and about right about now.  Keep an eye out!   ■

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