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February 2014 - Woodchuck a.k.a. Ground Hog & Whistle Pig

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Ground Hog Woodchuck Whistle PigTrivia Question: True or False

Woodchucks can climb trees.



Correct Trivia Answer: True

“Woodchucks are good climbers and sometimes are seen in lower tree branches.”



Woodchuck a.k.a. Ground Hog & Whistle Pig

We were all hoping that “Punxsutawney Phil” would predict an early spring this year, especially since this winter seems to be nastier than last year, but what do you really know about the season prognosticating woodchuck?

The woodchuck (Marmota monax), a member of the squirrel family, is also known as the “ground hog” or “whistle pig.” It is usually grizzled brownish gray. The woodchuck’s compact, chunky body is supported by short strong legs. Its forefeet have long, curved claws that are well adapted for digging burrows. Its tail is short, well furred, and dark brown.

Both sexes are similar in appearance, weighing an average of 5 to 10 pounds. The total length of the head and body averages 16 to 20 inches. The tail is usually 4 to 7 inches long. Like other rodents, woodchucks have white or yellowish-white, chisel-like incisor teeth. Their eyes, ears, and nose are located toward the top of the head, which allows them to remain concealed in their burrows while they check for danger over the rim or edge.

Woodchucks occur throughout the United States, from the East coast to northern Idaho, northeastern North Dakota, southeastern Nebraska, eastern Kansas, and northeastern Oklahoma, as well as south to Virginia and northern Alabama.

Woodchuck burrows are distinguished by a large mound of excavated earth at the main entrance. The main opening is approximately 10 to 12 inches in diameter. There are two or more entrances to each burrow system. Some secondary entrances are dug from below the ground and do not have mounds of earth beside them. They are usually well hidden and sometimes difficult to locate.

Woodchucks are primarily active during daylight hours and prefer to feed in the early morning and evening hours. They are strict herbivores and feed on a variety of vegetables, grasses, and legumes. Preferred foods include soybeans, beans, peas, carrot tops, alfalfa, clover, and grasses.

When not feeding, they sometimes bask in the sun during the warmest periods of the day. Woodchucks are good climbers and sometimes are seen in lower tree branches.

Woodchucks are among the few mammals that enter into true hibernation. Hibernation generally starts in late fall, near the end of October or early November, but varies with latitude. It continues until late February and March.

Woodchucks breed in March and April. A single litter of 2 to 6 (usually 4) young is produced each season after a gestation period of about 32 days. The young are born blind and hairless. They are weaned by late June or early July, and soon after strike out on their own. They frequently occupy abandoned dens or burrows. The numerous new burrows that appear during late summer are generally dug by older woodchucks. The life span of a woodchuck is about 3 to 6 years.

Woodchucks usually range only 50 to 150 feet from their den during the daytime. When startled, a woodchuck may emit a shrill whistle or alarm, preceded by a low, abrupt “phew.” This is followed by a low, rapid warble that sounds like “tchuck, tchuck.” The call is usually made when the animal is startled at the entrance of the burrow. The primary predators of woodchucks include hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, weasels, dogs, and humans. Many woodchucks are killed on roads by automobiles.

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