Groundhogs: Diet & Habitat

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

What exactly is a groundhog? What do they eat and where do they live? You've got questions, and we've got answers. Read on to learn more about groundhogs.

Woodchucks or Groundhogs?

''If a groundhog could chuck wood''; wait. That doesn't sound right, does it?

''If a woodchuck could chuck wood''; Aha! Good thing we're still talking about the same animal!

Groundhogs are rodents, scientifically called Marmota monax and belong to the Sciuridae family. Yes, they are related to squirrels. They're also called woodchucks or whistle-pigs (Who knew? Well ecologists, that's who.) These furry creatures aren't as small as squirrels though. They weigh around 13 pounds and are 17-24 inches in length. Adding the tail gives them another 7-9 or more inches. They have long claws that help them to dig. They're excellent swimmers.

An entire day called Groundhog Day is dedicated to this little critter in the United States. It is customary that on February 2nd, people wait and watch if the groundhog spots his own shadow. The belief is that if he does, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, spring is on its way. There's even a very famous 1993 movie plotted around this entire tradition called Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray.

Groundhog in a garden

Home Sweet Home

Groundhogs have nothing to do with wood chucking. They're built for digging in the ground. They are burrowers and dig holes to live in. You can find them only in North America, Canada and the United States to be specific. Since they burrow, they prefer open land, the sides of streams or rivers, road sides, and the edges of the woods. They hibernate for many months of the year and therefore sleep in these dens for safety.

They prefer to live alone, but they still have four to five dens each. A groundhog can dig up around 700 pounds of dirt for a single den. Each den has multiple chambers and exits. They can be as long as 66 feet! They are considered pests to farmers and gardeners. Their dens have sections: they have chambers for hibernation, regular use, and even a toilet. Groundhogs need damp, not wet, dirt. If there is too much water, they can drown in their dens. Once they abandon these dens, other animals who are not capable of burrowing, like foxes, use their dens as homes.

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