(Marmota monax), also called a Woodchuck or Whistle pig, is a
rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large
ground squirrels known as marmots. Most marmots live in rocky
and mountainous areas, but the Woodchuck is a creature of the
lowlands. It is widely distributed in North America, from Alaska
to Alabama and Georgia. In the west it is found only in Alaska
and British Columbia and northern Washington.
Groundhogs are typically 15 to 25 in. long (including a 5 in.
tail) and weigh 4 to 10 lb. In areas with fewer natural
predators and large quantities of vegetation, they can grow to
24 inches and 30 lb . They can live up to six years in the
wild, and ten years in captivity.
The Groundhog is one of a small number of species that have
grown greatly in numbers since the arrival of European settlers
in North America, since the clearing of forests provided it with
a more suitable habitat. It prefers open country and the edges
of woodland. As a consequence, it is a familiar animal to many
people in the United States and Canada. As Groundhogs enjoy open
spaces, they can be seen the most around back highways and less
Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, and they use burrows for sleeping,
rearing young, and hibernation. The burrows generally have two
exits, and the groundhog rarely ventures far from one of them
for safety. While preferring to flee from would-be predators,
the groundhog is known to viciously defend its burrow when
invaded by the occasional skunk, fox, weasel or domestic dog. It
can inflict quite a bit of damage with its two large incisors
and front claws, especially when the predator is at a
disadvantage inside the burrow.
The Wall Street Journal quotes wildlife expert Richard Thomas as
calculating that the average Groundhog moves approximately 35
cubic feet, or 700 pounds, of dirt when digging a burrow.
Note: The 18 ground hogs shown in the
photos above would have moved 12,600 lbs. or 6.3 tons of dirt to
make their homes in an area of about 10 acres. There have
been 56 ground hog trapped from this same area within a two
month time frame.
Usually Groundhogs breed in their second year, but a small
percentage may breed as a yearling. The breeding season extends
from early March to middle or late April following hibernation.
A mated pair will remain in the same den through the 28-32 day
gestation period. As birth of the young approaches in April or
May, the male will leave the den. One litter is produced
annually, usually containing two to six blind, naked and
helpless young. Young Groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek
their own dens at five to six weeks of age.
The Ground hog or Woodchuck damage can usually be classified into three categories:
(1) Damage to crops caused by feeding in farm fields and/or home gardens,
(2) Burrow holes and dirt mounds which hamper operation of farm equipment and can pose a threat to horses and livestock.
(3) Damage to fruit and ornamental trees caused by gnawing for scent
marking or clawing to wear down the winter growth of their teeth an sharpen their claws.
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