Discover the fascinating world of woodchucks, also known as groundhogs (Marmota monax), native to North America. Learn about their distinctive features, habitat preferences, and burrowing habits.
Woodchuck (Groundhog); an American marmot (Marmota monax), 20 to 27 inches long, grizzled brown above and lighter below, the feet and tail blackish. It is found in the United States from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi Valley (except in the Gulf states) and in Canada across the continent and as far north as Alaska, several distinct subspecies occurring in this wide range. Other related species of marmots are found west of the Rocky Mountains in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Woodchucks dig their holes in the fields, on sides of hills, or under rocks in the woods, in a slanting direction, at first upward to keep out the water, with several compartments, and usually with more than one entrance. Winter is passed in this burrow, in a dormant state. The digging is effected by the powerful forefeet, assisted by the front teeth, the dirt being thrown backward under the belly and then kicked out by the outspread hindfeet. The food consists of various plants, fruits, and vegetables, clover being particularly favored. As a result, the animal sometimes does considerable damage to both crops and gardens.
Woodchucks feed chiefly during early morning and late afternoon, and spend most of the remaining time lying in the sun or sleeping in the nests at the bottom of their burrows. They become extremely fat (weighing up to 14 pounds in the autumn), retire to hibernate on the first intimation of winter (usually two to four marmots cohibernate in one den), and reappear after the snow has gone in the spring, when they soon reduce to their normal weight of 8 or 9 pounds.
The brood of young, numbering from 2 to 8, is born in the spring or early summer; they are forced to leave the burrow and to shift for themselves when a few months old. The woodchuck, generally a bold and unsuspecting creature, has alert senses and, where much persecuted, may become extremely vigilant. When driven to bay, it can fight with considerable courage and effectiveness. Its chief natural enemies are foxes and bobcats, but the animal remains generally abundant in both cultivated regions and woodlands throughout its range.