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Woodchuck Fact File

Appearance

The woodchuck (also known as the groundhog) is a member of the rodent family. They are the largest species of squirrel found in North America.

These animals are well adapted to burrow and have short legs with curved claws.

Their body is covered with dark fur which is brown, gray or almost black in some individuals. Around the nose is a patch of white fur. On the upper part of the body the hairs are tipped with white giving them a grizzled appearance.

At the end of the body is a dark, bushy tail. This measures between 7.5 and 11.5cm (3-4.5in) long.

In most individuals the woodchuck has black or dark brown paws but in one subspecies they are pink.

Their ears are rounded and these cover the external portion of the auditory canal. This helps to prevent dirt from entering the ear.

Unlike most rodents the woodchuck has white teeth.

These animals measure between 45 and 65cm (17.5 and 25.5in) long. They reach weighs of between 2 and 5kg (4.5-11lbs).

Diet

The woodchuck is a herbivore. They feed on leaves, wood, bark, seeds, grains, nuts and flowers.

Most feeding takes place during the morning and afternoon.

groundhog or woodchuck

Scientific Name

Marmota monax

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

2-5kg (4.5-11lbs)

Length

45-65cm (17.5-25.5in)

Lifespan

Wild 5-6 years

Captive 10 years

Diet

Herbivorous

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Range

North America is the native home of the woodchuck. Here they can be found in Canada and the United States.

Their range extends from Alaska in the north down through Canada to the east coast and south to northern Idaho.

Habitat

Woodchucks make their home primarily on woodland edges along with woodland fields and meadows.

Humans have helped to increase their range through creating more woodland edge habitat. They will also make use of pasture, fields and orchards as their habitat.

They will create a burrow which contains multiple chambers each with a specific purpose. Adjacent to the entrance will be a mound of dirt which they use to survey their territory and sun-bake. Along with this main entrance there may be five other entrances.

When they abandon these burrows they will be used by skunks, foxes, weasels, opossums or rabbits.

groundhog or woodchuck

Reproduction

Breeding takes place from March to mid-April soon after the emerge from hibernation. Males may mate with multiple females during the breeding season.

After a 31-32 day gestation period the female gives birth to between 2 and 6 young. She will give birth in a den which is part of their extensive burrow system. At birth they are blind with their eyes opening at 26 days old.

After two months the female will kick the young out of the burrow.

Females provide all of the parental care with no involvement from the father. While the mother is away the pups are protected in the den.

Sexual maturity is reached at one year old.

Behavior

For most of the year they are solitary only coming together to mate.

They are active during the day when they will emerge to feed.

During winter this species will enter hibernation. Starting in summer they will build up a fat reserve which allows them to sleep for most of winter. While hibernating their heartbeat drops from 100 beats per minute down as low as 5 beats per minute.

Their vocalizations include a shrill alarm call which has led to the nickname whistle pig.

groundhog or woodchuck

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the woodchuck include foxes, wolves, cougars, black bears, lynx, bobcats, snakes, coyotes, racoons, hawks and dogs.

This species has benefited from the reduction in numbers of their main predators the wolf and cougar.

In parts of their range they are persecuted by farmers and gardeners as they will eat flowers, fruits and other crops along with burrowing under buildings.

Quick facts

Woodchucks are known by a number of alternative names including the groundhog or whistle pig – a reference to their shrill call.

Each year Americans celebrate groundhog day. Legend says that if the groundhog emerges from its burrow and sees his or her shadow there will be six more weeks of winter but if they don't spring is on its way.

groundhog or woodchuck

Photo Credits

Under License

References

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Jackson, T.,2011. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals, Birds & Fish of North America. 1st ed. Leicestershire: Lorenz Books

Mass Audubon. 2021. About Woodchucks. [online] Available at: <https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/mammals/woodchucks-groundhogs/about> [Accessed 9 March 2021].

Wildlifelandtrust.org. 2021. Woodchuck | Wildlife Land Trust. [online] Available at: <http://www.wildlifelandtrust.org/wildlife/close-ups/woodchuck-wildlife-close-up.html> [Accessed 9 March 2021].

Racine Zoo. 2021. Woodchuck Fact Page. [online] Available at: <https://www.racinezoo.org/miniature-pig-1> [Accessed 9 March 2021].

Tobias, C. 2011. "Marmota monax" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 07, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Marmota_monax/

Torontozoo.com. 2021. Toronto Zoo | Animals. [online] Available at: <https://www.torontozoo.com/animals/Woodchuck> [Accessed 9 March 2021].

Nature.ca. 2021. Woodchuck: Natural History Notebooks. [online] Available at: <https://nature.ca/notebooks/english/woodchuck.htm> [Accessed 9 March 2021].

Cassola, F. 2016. Marmota monax (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T42458A115189992. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T42458A22257685.en. Downloaded on 08 March 2021.

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