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.
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 natgeophotoark.org,