Groundhog Day will soon be here and we’ll be watching the weather to see what Shubenacadie Sam will predict.
Will we have an early spring, or will we have six more weeks of winter? Can a groundhog really predict the weather, and what is a groundhog anyway?
A groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, or a land-beaver, is actually a rodent and is the largest member of the squirrel family.
On average, the groundhog is from 40 to 60 cm (15.7 to 23.6 in.) long. It can weigh 2.2 to 4.5 kg (4.9 to 9.9 lbs.).
The chubby, round groundhog has a short tail, and a flat head with small eyes and ears. Its fur is a sleek, gray to reddish brown with black feet on the end of short, but powerful, little legs. The front feet have well-developed toes with long, curved claws perfect for digging. Like other rodents, its four front incisor teeth grow throughout its life. It can live up to six years in the wild.
A daytime creature, the groundhog is a talented underground excavator. It burrows an elaborate underground home that can contain sleeping and nursery areas, peep-holes, and escape tunnels. It spends much of its time underground, which is a good thing because it has many predators, including hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, weasels, dogs and humans. If you’re lucky, you might spy one sunning itself on logs or rocks on a nice summer day or you might even see it sitting up on its hind legs.
From September to early October, the groundhog puts on a lot of weight preparing for hibernation. It will lower its body temperature, heart rate, and breathing as it goes into a deep and long sleep until spring.
In April, the groundhog awakes, and is ready to mate and start a family. One to eight young, or kits, are born in May. Kits will spend their first six weeks underground.
Although the groundhog is an herbivore that feeds on a variety of grasses, vegetables, and cultivated crops, it has been known to eat almost any kind of vegetation, including berries, nuts, tubers and even the odd insect.
The groundhog can be found living in urban, rural, and farmland settings. It lives in fields, clearings, edges of wooded areas, and on rocky or bushy slopes. Homes are also made along railroad tracks, roads, highway ramps, and along fence lines. It lives in much of Canada, but interestingly, it is not found in Cape Breton.
The groundhog has adapted nicely to living around human habitation and it can cause significant damage, so preventative measures are key.
Various sources cite the best solution for keeping the groundhog out of gardens is by erecting woven wire fencing above and below ground areas to be protected.
Sprinkling blood meal, black pepper, dried blood, talcum powder, or even piles of used kitty litter around the perimeter of a garden are deterrents. Also, groundhog repellents are available that are made to smell like the urine of their predators, such as foxes, coyotes and bobcats.
For information about nuisance groundhogs, contact your local Lands & Forestry office. Also, check out these sites:
Shubenacadie Sam is a permanent resident at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park and will be making his prediction Groundhog Day on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 a.m. sharp. Come join the fun.
Diana O’Connell is a volunteer at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her website: www.nana.land