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  • Minneapolis Educational Article of the Month - Groundhog Biology and Information

Groundhog Biology and Information

A groundhog is a rodent belonging to the Sciuridae family. Its scientific name is Marmota Monax. It is also known by the name of a whistle pig and a woodchuck. The family of Sciuridae includes ground squirrels of large size that are known as marmots. A groundhog is a creature that frequents lowlands.

The groundhog is the largest in the Sciuridae family. It measures about sixty five centimeters in length and weighs up to four kilograms. It has a tail that is about fifteen centimeters long. It is a rodent that is adapted for digging as it has powerful and short limbs with thick and curved claws. It has a curved spine that resembles one as that of a mole. Temperate habitats suit groundhogs as they are covered with a couple of coats of fur. There is a dense undercoat of grey color and then there is a longer banded coat of hairs that give them the distinct frosted kind of appearance.

Groundhogs like to frequent the open country areas and the woodland edges. They prefer such regions because they are usually not so far away from burrowed entrances. Forest clearing is a suitable habitat for groundhogs. They prefer to live around grassy areas in the country and woods. This is the reason for their being so frequent along the main highways and roads and they have also become victims of several passing cars.

Groundhogs have been hunted for sport by the European settlers in the North American continent. Despite being hunted in great numbers, they have the ability to reproduce swiftly and this has mitigated the impact of sport hunting on them.

A Minnesota groundhog has a life span of six years in the wild regions. If they are held in captivity, groundhogs have been known to survive for a period as long as fourteen years. Their common predators have always been foxes, bears, dogs, eagles, cougars, snakes and wolves. Snakes attack the young of groundhogs by entering their burrows easily.

Groundhogs are mostly herbivorous in nature. They eat wild grass mainly and other types of vegetation that includes numerous agricultural crops and berries. They also feed on insects, grubs and snails. They have been known to eat nuts, much in a similar manner as the squirrels. However, they do not bury the nuts for future consumption like the squirrels do.

A groundhog is a competent swimmer despite its appearance which is heavy-bodied. It can also climb a tree quite easily if it has to escape its predators or when it has to survey its surroundings. It will always prefer to retreat to its burrow when it is threatened. When its burrow is infiltrated, it will defend itself quite tenaciously with its front claws and its couple of large incisors.

A Minneapolis groundhog is usually a territorial animal and it will fight its way out while establishing dominance. It is always alert when it is busy feeding when it is out of its burrow. It is generally a common sight to see groundhogs standing on their hind feet when they are looking out for danger. When they sense danger or when they are threatened, they whistle in a high pitched sound to alert the remainder of their colony. This is the reason why they are also called whistle pigs. They squeal a lot when they are busy fighting or when they are caught by their predators. They make funny noises such as low barks when they get injured. These sounds are made by the grinding of their teeth. When they get scared, the hair on their tails will stand erect, making them look like hair brushes.

Groundhogs usually breed during their second year and in rare cases, some of them may breed even in their first year. The season for breeding will be around March and April in the spring. This is the time for their hibernation. A pair that has mated will remain in a burrow or the same den for the period of one month gestation. The male will leave the den as the time approaches for the female to give birth. A litter is produced once every year and it will contain an average of six young groundhogs. They are weaned for a period of six weeks and following that, they get ready to look out for their own burrows. The mothers will introduce their young breed to the wild surroundings once the fur is grown on their bodies and when they can see properly. They motivate the young groundhogs to imitate the behavior of the grownups.

A typical groundhog burrow will have about four to five entrances and one will be a primary escape route from its predators. The burrows can be sometimes as large as fourteen meters of deep tunnels that can be buried up to one and a half meter underground. This poses as a serious threat to the residential and agricultural development as groundhogs severely damage the building foundations and also damage machinery at farms. There are a couple of chambers in a burrow. One is for taking rest and sleeping and the other is used as a chamber for excreta.

Their dietary habits and their burrowing nature turn them into nuisance rodents for farmers and people who have gardens. They will feed on the common vegetables grown in a typical garden and their homes will undermine foundations and damage farm ponds.

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