The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck is a rodent.
It belongs to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.
The groundhog is the most widespread North American marmot species.
It is found through much of the eastern United States across Canada and into Alaska.
This species inhabits many different ecosystems. It is typically found in low elevation forests, small woodlots, fields, pastures, and hedgerows.
In the wild, groundhogs can live up to 6 years with 2 or 3 being average. In captivity, groundhogs reportedly live up to 14 years.
Groundhogs are stocky in appearance and often stand up on their hind legs, making them look tall.
Adults measure from 41.8 to 68.5 cm (16.5 to 27 in) in total length including a tail of 9.5 to 18.7 cm (3.7 to 7.4 in).
Weights of adult groundhogs, typically at least, fall between 2 and 6.3 kg (4.4 and 13.9 lb).
Male groundhogs average slightly larger than females and, like all marmots, they are considerably heavier during autumn than when emerging from hibernation in spring.
Thick fur on the upper parts ranges in color through various shades of brown; the feet are darker, and the underparts are buff. Melanistic (nearly black) and albino individuals sometimes occur in some populations.
Groundhogs are territorial and non-social.
They are mostly diurnal, and are often active early in the morning or late afternoon.
Groundhogs are good swimmers and can climb tall shrubs and sizable trees.
Mostly herbivorous, groundhogs eat primarily wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops, when available. In early spring, dandelion and coltsfoot are important groundhog food items. Groundhogs also occasionally eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails and other small animals, but are not as omnivorous as many other Sciuridae.
Groundhogs have four incisor teeth which grow 1.5 mm (0.06 in) per week. Constant usage wears them down again by about that much each week. Unlike the incisors of many other rodents, the incisors of groundhogs are white to ivory-white.
Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, using burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating.
They are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation, and often build a separate “winter burrow” for this purpose. This burrow is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line and remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months.
The breeding season extends from early March to mid- or late April, after hibernation. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 31- to 32-day gestation period. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male leaves the den.
One litter is produced annually, usually containing two to six blind, hairless and helpless young. Groundhog mothers introduce their young to the wild once their fur is grown in and they can see. At this time, if at all, the father groundhog comes back to the family. By the end of August, the family breaks up; or at least, the larger number scatter, to burrow on their own.
The groundhog is classified as a species of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Groundhog Day is a popular tradition celebrated in Canada and the United States on 2 February. It derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks, and if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, spring will arrive early.
The groundhog has many less known names including to as a chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, siffleux.
The etymology of the name woodchuck is unrelated to wood or chucking. It stems from an Algonquian (possibly Narragansett) name for the animal, wuchak. The similarity between the words has led to the popular 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!