Photo: A groundhog sitting in the grass

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks or marmots, are the largest members of the squirrel family.

Photograph by Melissa Farlow

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Map: Groundhog range

Groundhog Range

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Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Herbivore
Size:
Head and body, 17.75 to 24 in (45 to 61 cm); tail, 7 to 9.75 in (18 to 25 cm)
Weight:
13 lbs (6 kg)
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Groundhog compared with adult man

The groundhog, or woodchuck, is one of 14 species of marmots. These rodents live a feast-or-famine lifestyle and gorge themselves all summer to build up plentiful reserves of fat. After the first frost, they retreat to their underground burrows and snooze until spring, drawing their sustenance from body fat. While hibernating, the animal's heart rate plunges, and its body temperature is not much warmer than the temperature inside its burrow.

Groundhog hibernation gave rise to the popular American custom of Groundhog Day, held on the second of February every year. Tradition dictates that if a groundhog sees its shadow that day, there will be six more weeks of winter, though such a prediction seems a sure bet over much of the groundhog's North American range.

In the spring, females welcome a litter of perhaps a half dozen newborns, which stay with their mother for several months.

Groundhogs are the largest members of the squirrel family. Though they are usually seen on the ground, they can climb trees and are also capable swimmers. These rodents frequent the areas where woodlands meet open spaces, like fields, roads, or streams. Here they eat grasses and plants as well as fruits and tree bark. Groundhogs are the bane of many a gardener. They can decimate a plot while voraciously feeding during the summer and fall seasons.

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Animals