Discover Nature: Groundhogs

Jan 31, 2017

Groundhogs or woodchucks are coming out of hibernation and visible now across Missouri. learn more on this week's Discover Nature.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

This week in nature, keep an eye out for groundhogs. Also known as woodchucks, or whistle pigs, these rodents in the squirrel family are active during daylight hours, and are breeding now.

With short, powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy tail, these mammals can grow to more than two-feet long, and weigh as much as 14 pounds.

Groundhogs dig tunnels leading to a nest chamber, three to six feet underground. They hibernate from October until February when they emerge and begin breeding.

In late March, a litter of two to nine young are born naked, blind, and helpless. Their eyes won’t open for four weeks, but by mid-summer they’ll start setting out on their own.

Groundhogs help to mix and aerate soil, and are important homebuilders for other animals who use their burrows for dens, such as foxes, skunks, weasels, opossums, and rabbits.

Each year, on Groundhog Day, legend has it, if one particularly famous groundhog sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. No shadow means an early spring.

Learn more about groundhogs and other similar species such as muskrats, beavers, and nutria, with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.