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Friday, March 28, 2014

Can Groundhogs Climb?

“Can groundhogs climb? I swear I saw one in a tree, but no one believes me.” At the Newton Falls Public Library, we weren't familiar with tree-climbing groundhogs either, but we looked into it and, as it turns out, they’re very capable climbers and they’re also able to swim!

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, land beavers, or whistle pigs, are members of the squirrel family, so their climbing ability shouldn't surprise. They’ll climb to find food and take in the sunshine. However, as their name suggests, they spend most of their time close to the ground. Groundhogs build extensive burrows with secret entrances, multiple chambers, and tunnels that can be up to fifty feet long. They enjoy coming out of their burrows to forage and sunbathe, but will beat a quick retreat when they sense danger, since most predators won’t bother trying to dig them out.

In our research, we also learned that the name “woodchuck” has nothing to do with wood. According to Scientific American, it comes from “wuchak,” the Algonquian word for groundhog. However, according to Native Languages of the Americas, the name may actually have come from the Algonquian word for fisher (which is a type of weasel) or it may have been a corruption of the Narragansett word for groundhog, “ockqutchaun.”

Groundhogs spend several months hibernating. When they hibernate, they curl up into a tight ball with their nose to their belly and their tail wrapped over their head. Their body temperature drops around 50ºF and their heartbeat goes down to about four beats per minute. They’re just starting to emerge now for the mating season, so we can look forward to seeing them out and about!

We found our groundhog information on the National Geographic and Scientific American websites, as well as in several books available here at the Newton Falls Public Library: The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals, edited by Don E. Wilson and Sue Ruff; Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania by Joseph F. Merritt; and Mammals of North America: Temperate and Arctic Regions by Adrian Forsyth.

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