Just look out the window. There is no earthly reason for a groundhog to come out of its burrow. Short of a hurry-up January thaw, there won’t be a reason for one to be topside on February 2, either.
But since when have woodchucks been known for sweet reasonableness? That Geico commercial pretty much says it all, when it comes to how much consideration we can expect from woodchucks.
Call them Marmota monax, land beavers, Scuridae (a rodent family), ground squirrels, whistle pigs or groundhogs. (We won’t get into what I call them, in this respectable publication.) Call one Phil (in Punxutawney), and another Willie (in Wiarton, Ont.) and a third General Beauregard Lee (in Atlanta, Ga.) A woodchuck by any name is a varmint in need of plinking, and an insufferable pest.
According to Wikipedia, the groundhog is widely distributed in North America. As I consider that passive verb, I am left wondering, just who is distributing them? I know they are promoted, by the Pennsylvania Lottery no less, an agency of our fair commonwealth. But who is in charge of distribution? Who all are ordering woodchucks, at the wholesale or the retail level?
Wikipedia says the groundhog is the largest scurrid in its territory, measuring from 16 to 26 inches long including its six-inch tail, and weighing up to nine pounds, except where there are few natural predators but lots of alfalfa and might pork up to 31 pounds.
I don’t think of myself as a natural predator of woodchucks, just a natural enemy, but only because they have carried on guerilla warfare against me and my kind for generations. And I personally know woodchucks that weigh way more than nine pounds without eating alfalfa. They are more than willing to settle for lettuce, cabbage, peas, beans, corn, and about anything except tomatoes and onions, from my garden.
According to Wikipedia, groundhogs are well adapted to digging, with their powerful limbs and thick, curved claws. They wear dense grey undercoat fur and banded guard hairs, which provide woodchucks with a “distinctive ‘frosted’ appearance.” Well la-di-da! I am distinctly frosted by any woodchuck’s appearance, but I know they come in several colors around here, from palomino to nearly black.
If the fur is all that distinctive, why don’t trappers catch them for those gorgeous pelts? If there was a fad for coonskin caps, couldn’t there be one for woodchuck caps? And why coonskin coats, when we could have chuckskin ones? Of course Marketing would insist on calling them Marmot fur coats. I bet Distribution would agree, and Retail would display those garments right next to the Rabbit (I mean Lapin) coats.
(I pause to observe that there is precedent for getting fur coats from disgusting animals, witness the young lady who got one from a skunk.)
Wikipedia says groundhogs usually live from two to three years but can live up to six in the wild. To which I would add, not if I can help it.
Common predators, it says, are wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, large hawks, owls and dogs. You go, common predators!
There is mention of woodchucks sitting up eating nuts, and of their ability to sit erect on their hindquarters. So a friend found out when she pulled into her South Main driveway and beheld a big chuck sitting bolt upright on her lawn swing, holding an apple in its forepaws and munching contentedly. She thought this was a charming sight. I was outraged that she was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. I urged her to put out poisoned apples; she refused. Something about neighborhood children.
Wikipedia continues with its extravagant praise of woodchucks. They are “excellent burrowers.” A chuck can move 710 pounds of dirt in preparing a burrow, and can have 46 feet of tunnels connected to it, and provide two to five entrances.
Elsewhere I read of groundhogs adapting existing cavities including crawl spaces and cellars, and repairing collapsed tunnels. Here’s my advice to groundhogs planning to create or appropriate infrastructure on my land: neither a burrower nor a mender be.
Peace (you know the exception).