Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Ground Hog
Nature Bulletin No. 50   January 26, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation

February 2 is Ground Hog Day. The ground hog or woodchuck, known also as the "whistle pig", is supposed to wake from his long hibernation, take a peek at the weather, and either go back to sleep for another six weeks or stay awake in anticipation of an early spring -- depending upon whether or not the sun is shining. He gets a lot of publicity, but like Greta Garbo, all he wants is to be alone.

They are solitary surly animals. Each adult has its own burrow. They are very wary but occasionally you may spy one, alarmed, sitting bolt upright like a statue, listening. If he sees or hears you he will give a loud, piercing whistle and scamper clumsily for his den. Cornered by a dog he fights fiercely.

The woodchuck and his cousin, the marmot, are the largest of our gnawing animals -- the rodents -- excepting only the beaver. They belong to the same family as the tree squirrel, the ground squirrel, the chipmunk and the prairie dog, all of which lack canine teeth but have four incisors ( 2 above and 2 below) which grow constantly and have to be kept down by gnawing.

The Southern Woodchuck which we have here is one of 7 subspecies. It is grizzled brownish-gray above, lighter underneath, with long coarse hair and a softer underfur. The pelt is seldom used and they are seldom eaten, although they are strictly vegetarian and the flesh of a young one is well-flavored. They have a heavy-set body, short bushy tail, blunt nose, low ears, small eyes, and powerful legs armed with strong claws for digging.

And how they dig! Each burrow is an elaborate affair with branching galleries, several entrances, sometimes used in winter by other animals. Often they are dug in meadows rather than a hillside. Because this creates hazards for livestock and because woodchucks destroy large patches of grass, clover and alfalfa, farmers try to exterminate them.

They do not store up food but spend most of the time above ground, eating so that in October they can retire to their burrows, fat as pigs, to hibernate in death-like sleep until March. What a life!

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