What are woodchucks? — Trae’s student essay

What Are Woodchucks?

“We all know the tongue-twisting poem about these little creatures. We know it enough to know they don’t chuck wood. So what are they? Woodchucks are quite simply groundhogs. This is not the only cute nickname for groundhogs though. They’re sometimes referred to as “whistle pigs” because they produce a high pitch whistling sound. They are also referred to as land beavers. While they may seem like a simple ordinary pest or rodent, there are probably a few things you didn’t know about groundhogs or woodchucks. 

They are a marmot, which is related to the squirrel family. They’re one of the most widespread members of the squirrel family in North America, ranging from northern Alabama up to Canada and even in some parts of Alaska. Woodchucks have their own day in North America. And while we rely on these creatures to tell us whether or not there will be two more weeks of winter, the holiday didn’t always revolve around these giant land squirrels. This holiday originates in Europe. Before settlers arrived in North America, there was a Germanic holiday called Candlemas Day, which is a Christian feasting holiday.

In Europe, they often relied on hedgehogs to be the bearer of good or bad news in the spring. When settlers came to North America, there were no hedgehogs to bring the news, so sources think the groundhog became the traditional animal because of its size and the fact that they’re everywhere. 

Hundreds of years later we still have a national Groundhog Day and await for our furry friends to tell us if we will be warm soon or perhaps endure another snowstorm before summer. Quite the task for rodents. Their name has nothing to do with actual wood. It is thought that this term simply derived from Europeans butchering the Native American terms jack, woodchuck, or wood shaw used to describe these animals. 

They hibernate better than bears. By that I mean they are what scientists refer to as “true hibernators”, or animals that can drop their body temperature to below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and their heartbeat to a mere five beats per minute. Bears can only drop their body temperature to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Groundhog popping out of his hole

Last but not least, woodchucks have impeccable timing. Male woodchucks leave their hibernation a few weeks before the females in order to set up impressive homes for mating. After they’ve built a few homes near where they think the lady groundhogs are sleeping they return to sleep for another month or so. The mating window for these big squirrels is a short one, however, and so male groundhogs must know exactly when to wake up and make their move on the ladies that are waking from their winter slumber. Perhaps that short window of time in the spring makes them a good candidate for predicting the end of the cold weather. 

I hope you enjoyed these facts on groundhogs, woodchucks, or whistle pigs. Whatever we want to call them, they are a national treasure to our squirrel family population. And we might never know when to begin planting our summer crops if it wasn’t for their eagerness to reproduce. “

Author: Trae Matthews

University of Alaska Anchorage

Student Scholarships

Every year Thrive Pest Control hosts an essay contest and the reward is a 1-year scholarship at a 4-year university in the United States. This blog post is one of those scholarships.