Groundhog Day 2017 Celebrated With a Portrait From the National Geographic Photo Ark

February 2, 2017 (Groundhog Day)–By tradition today is when the groundhog (aka woodchuck or whistle-pig) awakes from its winter hibernation to check on the weather. If it sees its shadow it can go back to bed; there will be six more weeks of winter.

A heavy-set rodent weighing as much as 12 pounds, the groundhog fattens up during the summer, quite often feasting on farmer’s crops and residential landscaping, causing it to be regarded by many people as a pest. When the cold weather arrives, groundhogs settle in their burrows to sleep through winter (November to February). During that time their metabolism slows as their pulse and body temperature drop.

You Can Help Make a Difference: Species are disappearing at an alarming rate. But together we can help. The interaction between animals and their environments is the engine that keeps the planet healthy for all of us. But for many species, time is running out. That’s why National Geographic, along with renowned photographer Joel Sartore, is dedicated to finding solutions to save them. The National Geographic Photo Ark is an ambitious project committed to documenting every species in captivity—inspiring people not just to care, but also to help protect these animals for future generations. And, with your support, we’re funding on-the-ground conservation projects focused on those animals in most critical need of protection. Click on the Sartore photograph of a groundhog above to get more information.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assesses the groundhog, Marmota monax, as a species of Least Concern, meaning there are no major threats to its survival. Some people bothered by groundhogs eating their herbs, shrubs and vegetable gardens do take (sometimes drastic) action to get rid of them.

Females produce their young in spring. A litter of around half a dozen groundhogs remains with the mother until summer.

Groundhogs are the largest members of the Sciuridae, the family of animals that includes squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs.

They are thought to have earned their other common names, woodchuck and whistle-pig, from the American Indian name for the animal (wuchak) and from the high-pitched alarm whistle it makes when warning of approaching danger.

This post was produced in support of the National Geographic Photo Ark, a multi-year project to photograph all species in captivity. The groundhog is one of them. To learn more about the Photo Ark, visit,

Follow the Photo Ark photographer Joel Sartore and the National Geographic Photo Ark on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook, and add your voice using #SaveTogether.

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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn