Thursday, February 2, 2012

Can Woodchucks Really Chuck Wood?

Can you believe that I was sitting here, having a hard time thinking about what to write today?  It's Groundhog's Day! I thought in honor of the day I would forsake the history of the holiday and instead focus on the star himself: the woodchuck.  In November I brought you turkey trivia, now it's time for woodchuck wonderings! (Yes, I just made up my own word. You're allowed to do that on the internet.)

  • Which is the true name, woodchuck or groundhog?  The answer: woodchuck, which stems from the Algonquin word for the animal, wuchak.  Contrary to the Geico commercials, the name woodchuck has nothing to do with chucking or wood. I still love that commercial though. 
"Hey you dang woodchucks! Quit chucking my wood!" Ah, comedic gold.

  • The woodchuck is the third largest member of the rodent family in the United States (behind the North American beaver (#1), and porcupine (#2)) and is the largest member of the squirrel family.  

  • "Chucks" are true hibernators. While asleep, their body temperature drops from over 90 degrees F to below 45 and their heartbeat slows from more than 100 beats to minute to a mere 4.

  • Regardless of whether they see their shadow or not, male woodchucks start emerging from their underground burrows in February to fight with other males and establish territories.  If Punxsutawney Phil went back to sleep today, he's going to miss out on all the ladies.

  • Woodchucks are most definitely rodents when it comes to their gestation period: only 28 days!
Yup, cute overload.
  • Also as with other rodents, a woodchuck's teeth are constantly growing. It's the wearing of the upper and lower incisors on each other that keep them at a constant length.  However, woodchucks are known to suffer from malocclusion, which means that the incisors do not line up and do not wear each other down.  

Sadly, sometimes the teeth even grow up through the roof of the mouth, causing a painful death.

    • Like American robins, the woodchuck has actually benefited from human development. Trading in forests for manicured lawns provides robins lots of hunting grounds for earthworms, and a green carpet of food for woodchucks.

    • A woodchuck's den is a virtual Motel 6 for other animals, such as skunks, raccoons, and foxes, which use abandoned burrows to raise their young. Rabbits don't even wait for a burrow to go empty; they will use the dens for shelter in winter while the woodchucks sleep below.

    So on this Groundhog's Day, I salute this rotund rodent not for its weather predicting ability (Punxsutawney Phil's accuracy stands at about 39%, which is worse than guessing) but rather for its biological charisma. Happy Groundhog's Day everyone!  Although I think it should have been called "Whistle Pig Day" after yet another one of the woodchuck's nicknames.

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