Each year we have the privilege of sharing our yard with the resident groundhog (Marmota monax), which is also known as a woodchuck.  From previous years, I thought I knew a lot about this rodent’s daily activities. Then I saw it do something different which prompted me to explore its behavior. 

My earlier observations suggested that she was an herbivore.  She grazes frantically through our flower garden.  However today I’m somewhat certain that she was eating insects.  She wasn’t chowing down on greens but she was nibbling on the sides of the leaves.  It looks like she’s capturing insects.  She also dug down into the dirt, perhaps seeking grubs. 

Are groundhogs carnivores?  What else is unexpected about these critters?

Here’s what I found out:

  • First, they are a member of the squirrel species.
  • They stand up not necessarily to warm themselves in the sun but to survey the surrounding lands.
  • Groundhogs occupy the same territory each year.  Males’ territories are about 3x the size of females.  
  • Their two upper incisor teeth grow about 1/16 of an inch each week.  
  • They greet each other with a version of an Eskimo kiss, that is, nose to nose. 
  • Gestation occurs in just 32 days followed by a birth in April to mid-May. Then, there is a six-week weaning period before we get to see a litter of four to six kits.  Even though they can be disruptive, I can’t wait to see the kits!
  • In the fall, the young ones move off to tear up someone else’s garden find their own territories.
  • A groundhog’s average life span is between three and six years.  

Given how long we’ve had a groundhog living under the hedges, ours perhaps exceeded the average life span.  Otherwise, this is an example of a burrow system that has sheltered several generations. 

We are one, big happy, multi-species family!

Sources:

Some facts – https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-groundhogs/

Still more – https://www.esf.edu/aec/adks/mammals/woodchuck.htm

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