When Do Groundhogs Really Come Out of Hibernation?

Hi Journey North participants!

We are Mrs. Anderson's fourth grade class at Garlough Elementary School in West St. Paul, Minnesota. We are going to try to predict the arrival of spring by tracking groundhog sightings throughout North America.

Does the groundhog really come out on February 2? Call the nature center nearest you and ask the naturalist when groundhogs first appear in your area of the world. Report your findings back to us at: 0197gel@informns.k12.mn.us. We look forward to hearing from you!

We divided up our class into five and we wrote the following report about groundhogs for you.

Groundhog Day is a special day for many people in different areas. As far back as the middle ages, farmers used animals as weather predictors. When settlers moved from Germany to Pennsylvania, they brought this belief with them. In Germany, however, they depended on the badger to predict coming weather. Since badgers weren't common where they settled in Pennsylvania, the groundhog became the substitute. It is said that on February 2 a groundhog is supposed to come out of his den. If he sees his shadow, he will get frightened and go back into his hole for six more weeks. If it is a cloudy day and he does not see his shadow, he will comeout and it means spring will come soon.

The ground hog has a very unique description. This woodchuck is related to the squirrel. The adult is about two feet long and weighs ten pounds. It has a broad flat head. This animal is gray on its upper parts and yellowish orange on its under part. Their legs and tails are dark brown and black. This warm-blooded animal has short legs and ears. This mammal has a heavy body. The ground hog has five toes and also twenty-two teeth. The hearing and sight of the ground hog is keen. The discription of the ground hog is impressive.

The groundhog's habitat is very unique. This mammal's burrow cntains several chambers. There are three exits front, back and the drophole. The hole opens into a straight shaft that goes down two or more feet. They live in Canada and Eastern and Midwest United States. They dig their burrows with the sharp claws of their front feet. They scrape the dirt out of the hole with their hind feet. The colony may have a territory of two to three acres. Some tunnels may be over 30 feet long. They live in fields, open woodlands, rocky places and slopes of mountains. Their entrances are well hidden. Groundhogs line their home with grasses and leaves. The dens are snug and warm during the winter.

The goundhog eats a variety of food. These creatures eat tender green plants, alfalfa, clover, roots bublbs, tubers, and seeds. This untamed animal doesn't store food in the winter because it hibernates. The woodchucks feed in groups while one stays on guard. This mammal digs dens near food and water. They eat large amounts of food in the fall.

The woodchuck's young are fascinating. The female gives birth to four, five, or six cubs in the late spring. The cubs are born naked and blind. For one month the cubs will drink their mother's nourishing and rich milk. When they can start to see, they will eat tender grasses and explore the outside. By July, they leave their family and travel two to three miles and start their own family.

The goundhog's hibernation is so cool it's hard to believe. They will eat a variety of foods before hibernation. The fat will keep them alive while in its burrow. While it's sleeping, it breathes every six minutes. The body of the groundhog will decrease in temperature from 100 degrees to 38 degrees F. The heart and other organs will shut down. They will curl up in a tight ball and sleep.

P.S. If you DON'T have groundhogs where you are, or if they don't hibernate where you live, be sure respond to this study!

Heidi Hammond
Garlough Elem.