Happy Groundhog Day!
Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States and Canada every February 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
“Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal—the hedgehog—as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.” (History.com)
While they are also plentiful, they also happen to emerge from hibernation around the same time as Candlemas - hence why they became the face of this newfound holiday. They end their hibernation and leave their burrow to claim their territory and find a mate. By spring, females will give birth to anywhere from three to five babies, called pups.
Groundhog Day was first officially announced in print in 1886, meaning this holiday has been celebrated for almost 140 years! In Punxsutawney, Groundhog Day is celebrated on the 1 and 2 of February, with the culmination of the holiday taking place the morning of February 2. A groundhog lovingly called “Punxsutawney Phil” will emerge from hibernation and we will learn whether we will have six more weeks of winter or if spring will arrive early - depending on if he sees his shadow or not.
Fun fact: Did you know that Phil’s full name is “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary?”
We know it’s silly, but we are happy to use the opportunity to share information about our furry friends.
“Also known as woodchucks, groundhogs spend much of their days alone, foraging for plants and grasses and digging burrows up to 66 feet long.” (National Geographic) Because of their digging and burrowing, along with their love of foods usually found in vegetable gardens, some humans think Groundhogs can be a nuisance. However, the burrows are an important part of the Groundhog ecosystem and because Groundhogs are herbivores, passing up a yummy vegetable garden can be hard.
Fun fact: Even though they are often referred to as Woodchucks, Groundhogs typically don’t chew wood. The name Woodchuck comes from the Native American word, wuchak, which translates to “digger.” (Live Science)
What You Should Do if You Find an Injured or Orphaned Groundhog
Decide whether the animal is in need of assistance. If an animal is clearly injured, call your local wildlife rehabilitation center. If a Groundhog baby is alone, wait to see if mom is around or comes back. Removing a baby from their mother before they’re ready is never a good idea.
When to assist a baby Groundhog:
The baby is seriously injured or has been in a dog or cat’s mouth
The mother has not come back to care for the baby
You know the mother has been removed from the area
If the animal meets the criteria above:
Handle with care and caution. Always wear gloves and use thick towels as a barrier between your hands and the animals. Never touch an animal with bare hands
Place the injured or orphaned animal in a box immediately.
Do not feed them. Improper feeding can be dangerous and even deadly.
Keep the animal stress free. Place the box in a warm, dark, and quiet place. Do not handle the animal, stare at the animal or feed them. You may frighten them
Call your local wildlife rehabilitation center. If you’re located in the Charlotte, NC area, you can call Carolina Wildlife Conservation Center at 980-389-1133.
Thank you for your interest in caring for your local wildlife! To learn more, visit carolinaconservation.org.