Groundhogs

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Groundhogs. This morning I saw a groundhog on the park grounds.  With the coming of spring, we often see groundhogs out and about.  Did you know that groundhogs live on the park grounds at Fountain Rock Park & Nature Center?  You can sometimes see them at the edge of the woods or in our open areas. While walking the unpaved trails, if you look closely, you can see the entrance to some of their burrows near the edges of the woods.

Many people are familiar with the term groundhog because of the famous movie “Groundhog Day” and the famous weather forecasting groundhog.  The TV news each year highlights if the groundhog sees his shadow or not.  This year the groundhog forecast an early spring – but it wasn’t so, at least not in Frederick County, Maryland. Burr.

Groundhogs go by several names.  These include woodchuck and whistle pig.  My 2nd grade daughter likes the name woodchuck and will immediately recite the poem “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood”.  Sigh.  I’ve heard that phrase way too many times.

What is a groundhog anyway? Well, glad you asked.  According to Wikipedia, a groundhog is a rodent belonging to a group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.  Groundhogs can grow up to 26 inches long and weigh as much as nine pounds!  That is a big critter.  Groundhogs usually live about two years, but are reported to live up to about nine to fourteen years in captivity.

If you get a chance to see a groundhog up close, one of the first things you will notice is their teeth.  The teeth tend to be long and curved and look somewhat similar to beaver teeth.  Groundhogs mainly eat grasses and other vegetation, but will eat nuts, insects, worms, snails and other small animals.  The other item you will notice on the groundhog is their claws.  The claws are large and sharp.  You should never try to pick up a groundhog or feed one – as they tend to have aggressive behavior and their teeth and claws can cause serious injury to a person. Thankfully, most groundhogs are shy and will try to escape from people.

At Fountain Rock Park you can see evidence of the groundhog burrows throughout the park, especially in the wooded areas near the trails.  Did you know that the typical groundhog can move over two tons of dirt when digging its burrow?  That is a lot of dirt!  Each groundhog burrow may have from two to five entry/exit openings to allow for escape from predators. The groundhog burrows can be up to 46 feet in length (over 10 yards on a football field).  Due to the length of some of the burrows it can be hard to find all the entry and exit points.

The photo and information on this page contains some information found on wikiepedia.org entry on groundhogs and is used with permission under the wikipedia commons license.

 

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