16 Groundhog Facts You Need to Know for Groundhog Day
How did our modern Groundhog Day come about? What did Punxsutawney Phil, famous rodent prophet of Gobbler’s Knob, do to become a national icon and film star? Is Phil single? Read the furry, fascinating answers to these and learn other mind-blowing facts about Groundhog Day.
First things first: Groundhogs are lousy weather predictors
As the myth of Groundhog Day goes, if a groundhog sees its shadow on February 2, winter will last another six weeks. And while Punxsutawney Phil’s handlers maintain 100 percent accuracy in his seasonal predictions, the numbers tell a different story. Stormfax calculated that Phil has seen a 39 percent forecasting success rate since 1887. According to a Canadian groundhog study, this is just 2 percent higher than the average success rate of 37 percent (the most accurate hog-nosticators in their study residing in Yellowknife, Canada, with a 50 percent accuracy). In other words, a gambling man would be better off flipping a coin.
Groundhogs DO have one secret talent, though
What do groundhogs have in common with sleazy construction workers? They both whistle at potential mates. It’s because of this odd adaptation that groundhogs are also known as “whistle-pigs,” and lecherous day laborers known simply as “pigs.”
They have other nicknames, too
Groundhogs are members of a group of large ground squirrels called marmots, but they’re also called land beavers and woodchucks. Surprisingly, the latter moniker has nothing to do with wood, Scientific American explains. It’s believed to be taken from the Algonquian name for the same animal: wuchak. Check out these other “facts” about animals you probably have all wrong.
Groundhogs are vegetarians
The Groundhog Diet consists mainly of grass, herbs, and plants like dandelions, daisies, and goldenrods. They also have an eye for human crops, like carrots and corn, which puts them on farmers’ list of Most Wanted. And yes, they do occasionally eat tree bark, as we all hoped woodchucks would.
They call North America home
Most groundhogs live in eastern and central United States, although you can find them in Canada and even Alaska. They tend to settle down on the edge of a forest or woodland near an open field, where they’ll likely construct their underground burrows. However, you may also spot them climbing trees. Check out these other “facts” about animals you probably have all wrong.
They make great architects
Groundhogs build pretty impressive homes. Their underground burrows include multiple “rooms” with different purposes, including a sleeping chamber, a nursery chamber, and a waste chamber (what we would call a bathroom). The entire burrow can stretch anywhere from eight to 66 feet long. Check out these 10 other animals that have real-life superpowers.
Sleeping is their favorite hobby
Few animals are as dedicated to hibernating as groundhogs. Known as “true hibernators,” they hibernate from late fall to late winter or early spring, which can add up to as many as six months of deep sleep, depending on their climate. During this time, their body temperatures can drop below 20 degrees Celsius, and their heart rates slow from 80 beats per minute to just five.
They’re surprisingly romantic
Despite their intense hibernation habits, there’s evidence that male groundhogs wake up early (after about three months) to start looking for potential mates. “Typically, there’s a male that has a territory that includes several female burrows. And there’s some competition for that territory,” Stam Zervanos, retired professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University in Reading, told National Geographic. “They try to defend that territory, and they go from burrow to burrow to find out if that female is still there.” Groundhogs start visiting females as early as February, and then go back to sleep until mating season starts in March. Putting relationships before sleep? That’s what we call dedication. Check out these 11 monogamous animals that mate for life.
It wasn’t always called Groundhog Day
If you can’t find yourself a groundhog to ogle this February 2, simply step outside and recite this old English rhyme:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
Modern Groundhog Day evolved from Europe’s Candlemas Day, a celebration of light both literal (the days are growing longer) and religious (Candelmas invokes baby Jesus’ first visit to the Temple in Jerusalem). It’s an olde knight’s tale that the weather on Candlemas will be the exact opposite of the weather six weeks hence—yet somehow, centuries later, a few lines of scientifically suspect verse remain the basis of an annual holiday. Check out these other unusual holidays that everyone should celebrate.
Groundhogs weren’t always the holiday’s honored animal
About halfway between the winter and spring solstices, Candlemas has long been a day of seasonal speculation, though the designated animal weatherman varies from culture to culture. Records from Penn State University Libraries show that medieval cults favored bears, holding parties by their dens, gussied up in grizzly costumes and waiting for a bear to lumber out from hibernation and check the weather. English and German Catholics celebrated a similar tradition with sacred badgers. When badgers proved hard to come by for Pennsylvania’s German settlers in the early 1800s, bctv.org reports, colonists adapted their old-country tradition to an abundant New World animal: the groundhog.