Sympathy for Phil

Well, Phil let us down today. But, really, who can blame him? If you’d been asleep for five months and someone rudely yanked the covers off, wouldn’t you look for any reason to dive back under, too?

About this time of year, early February, male Groundhogs start coming out of hibernation. When a Groundhog goes into hibernation, it shuts down nearly all its systems. It breathes once every five to six minutes, its heartbeat slows from 100 beats per minute to 15, and its body temperature drops from 95 degrees to around 45 degrees. All of this causes its metabolism rate to plummet so that, even though it hasn’t eaten for about 150 days, it will have lost no more than a quarter of its body weight.

While Punxutawney Phil (in Pennsylvania) is our closest weather-forecasting groundhog, many of Phil’s brethren and sistren are coastal Delaware residents—we even have one living under our shed! Here are a few facts about our burrowing backyard neighbors to chew on during our extended winter:

*Groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal. And, unfortunately they don’t chuck wood although that is one of my favorite commercials. The name ‘Wood chuck’ comes from the Algonquian word for the animal “wejack.”

*To prepare for hibernation, during the warm months Groundhogs pack on the pounds. They are vegetarians and, during the summer, they can eat up to one pound of vegetation per day. Since they weigh about 14 pounds before going into hibernation, that is equivalent to a 150 pound person eating a 15 pound steak!

*To be able to eat this much food, their upper and lower incisors grow about a sixteenth of an inch per week. For most Groundhogs, the teeth align so they grind each other and remain a manageable size. However, once in awhile, a Groundhog will skip the orthodontist visits and the upper and lower incisors don’t align. In these cases, the teeth will grow uncontrolled, eventually looking like tusks, sometimes even impaling the lower jaw. 

*In case you look for these types of things, you’ll rarely find Groundhog scat. Inside their elaborate underground tunnel networks, they create separate latrines.

*Their tunnels can travel over twenty feet sometimes up to six feet underground.

Enjoy your extended hibernation, Phil! We’ll see you soon!

Info for this post is from:

Paul Rezendes’ “Tracking and the Art of Seeing”

10 Things You May Not Know About Groundhogs

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