Most of us if not all, love groundhogs. It’s almost time for one of our favorite winter holidays, Groundhog Day! Where I live in the United States, every February 2nd, we celebrate a day that’s pretty close to the halfway point of winter. All eyes turn to a little animal called the groundhog. The most famous groundhog in the United States lives in a little town in Pennsylvania called Punxsutawney and he is called Punxsutawney Phil. The story goes that when this groundhog comes up from his underground den, and sees a shadow that means there are six weeks of winter left.
Punxsutawney Phil's handlers set to announce at sunrise what kind of weather they say Pennsylvania's most famous groundhog is predicting for the rest of winter. https://t.co/zWN4gWiqF2
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 2, 2018
Now there aren’t many holidays that are just about animals, so we thought it would be a great time to learn about Phil and the other members of his family.
Groundhogs or as some people call them woodchucks, belong to a group of animals called rodents. Other kinds of rodents include squirrels, hamsters, rats and mice. All rodents have sharp front teeth called incisors. We have incisors too. They’re the four front teeth right in the front of your mouth. It is located on the top and the bottom. Our incisors are often the first teeth you lose as your permanent teeth start to come in. However, rodents, like the groundhog, don’t usually lose their incisors. Instead, their front teeth do something else that is pretty cool. They grow and they keep growing longer and longer. If the groundhog did not do something to keep its incisors from growing too long, it’d have a pretty hard time eating. Hence, groundhogs chew or gnaw on things like sticks and trees. This wears their teeth down and keeps them nice and short. If you see them chewing on wood, it’s probably not eating it. It’s just filing down its front teeth. Groundhogs do eat lots of different stuff. Its diet is mostly plants like grasses, berries and nuts. They also eat small insects, grubs and snails, if they can find them.
When they are not out looking for food, they hide, sleep and raise their families in long, underground tunnels called burrows. Burrows can be really big. Many of them are about as long as five or six cars parked end-to-end. Every burrow typically has two main rooms. One is kind of used as kind of a living room and the other is used only as a bathroom.
Burrows are also where groundhogs hibernate. Hibernation is sort of a deep sleep that some animals settle into in order to make through the winter. When groundhogs hibernate, their heart rate slows from about 80 beats a minute to as few as four or five beats a minute. Their body temperature also changes. They normally have a body temperature that’s a bit close to ours. About 37°C or 98.6°F. But when hibernating their body temperature drops all the way down to 5°C or 41°F . A slower heartbeat and a low temperature help the groundhog save energy through this cold winter.
To get ready for their long hibernation, they spend most of the fall eating as much as they can. This helps them build up a lot of fat in their bodies. They can then use this fat for energy while they hibernate, since they won’t come out of their burrows even to eat from October to March. This means if Punxsutawney Phil is up and about on February 2nd to see a shadow, then he must have gotten up a little too early,
Have you ever wondered why something happens or how something works? If a groundhog emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, legend has it winter will continue for another 6 weeks. If it’s cloudy, he’ll venture out of his burrow and spring will come early. Do you believe in this little gem of weather folklore? Leave us a comment and again ’til next time!