Woodchuck -Marmota monax
The woodchuck is a large ground squirrel. It is 16-27 inches from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. It has gray to brownish red fur with white tipped guard hairs that give the woodchuck a grizzled look.
The woodchuck has a body built for burrowing with short powerful legs, sharp curved claws, a rounded head and and fur-covered ears designed to keep out dirt. They have long sharp front teeth that will grow too long if they don't they wear them down by chewing on things.
The woodchuck is found across much of the eastern U.S. and across much of southern Canada. It is also
found in Alaska.
The woodchuck is found in a variety of habitats including fields, forests, hedgerows, and pastures. Woodchucks are burrowing animals and make both summer and winter burrows. Their summer burrows are usually close to a food source. Their winter burrow is made in a place where they can hibernate. Woodchuck burrows usually have more than one entrance and multiple chambers, including one they use as a bathroom. Burrows can be anywhere from 6-80 feet in length and can have more than one level. Woodchucks use their burrows for sleeping, protection, as a place to raise their pups, and for hibernation.
Woodchucks are true hibernators. They hibernate from the late winter to the early spring. During hibernation, both their heart rate and body temperature drop dramitically. Their body temperature can drop from from 99 °F to 40 °F and their heart rate can drop from 100 beats per minute to a few as 4 beats per minute. While they are dormant during long periods of hibernation, they do wake up for 2-3 day periods during hibernation.
Woodchucks are diurnal. They forage for food in the morning and in the afternoon. They eat plants like alfalfa, clover and dandelions as well as insects, tree bark, leaves, and bird eggs. Woodchucks eat as much food as they can in the spring and summer so they can build up fat reserves for when they hibernate in the winter.
When the woodchuck is eating, it often looks up to check for predators. Its burrow is usually very close to where it feeds, so it can scurry back to safety if it spots a predator. When it is outside but not feeding, it will stand on its hinds legs and keep a lookout for predators.
Woodchucks first mate when they are two. They mate shortly after they come out of hibernation in the early spring. The female gives birth to 3-5 pups in her burrow. The pups are cared for by the female and are weaned when they are about 44 days old. They leave their mother when they are around two months old.
The woodchuck is also known as the groundhog and the whistle pig. The name woodchuck has nothing to do with chucking wood, it more than likely comes from the Algonquian word for the woodchuck, wuchak. The name whistlepig does come from the woodchuck's whistling vocalization! It also barks, yips, and chatters. It uses it vocalizations to scare away predators and other woodchucks and to warn other woodchucks of predators.
Woodchucks usually retreat to their burrows when they are threatened, but they also climb trees to avoid predators.