The adorable groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is really only the star of the show once a year. On February 2nd—aka Groundhog Day—Phil, a very special groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, pokes his head out of a hole and tells the world how much longer winter will last.
If he sees his shadow due to clear weather, the legend is winter will last for six more weeks. If he doesn’t because it’s cloudy outside, spring will arrive early. Sadly, the National Geographic says these predictions are no better than chance. But there’s much more to groundhogs than their questionable weather forecasting skills. Or, their ability to dig tunnels under your garden.
In celebration of the holiday, we’re sharing some must-know groundhog facts that will make you appreciate the animal on another level—including ways they help better the planet.
7 Groundhog Facts You Should Know
1. They help with soil aeration.
Groundhogs aren’t usually praised for their ability to dig up a lawn, but there is a perk to them doing so. As they’re digging, they help aerate the soil with oxygen, making the land healthier overall. Instead of paying someone to do it for you, these cuties do all the work for free!
2. They whistle when they’re scared.
Groundhogs have gotten the nickname “whistle-pigs” for good reason. When they sense danger, they emit a high-pitched whistle. This warns the rest of their colony when there’s a predator is nearby. Which predators, you ask? They have plenty: foxes, bobcats, wolves, dogs, coyotes, bears, eagles, and even humans.
3. They provide free compost.
According to Off the Grid News, groundhogs naturally condition the land by carrying essential fungal spores, plant matter, feces, and other organic matter into their burrows. “This natural and subterranean composting adds value to plant roots and doesn’t need human intervention to accumulate,” the article reads.
4. They’re vegetarians.
Yep, it’s true—groundhogs are plant-based. As vegetarians, they mostly eat plants, including grass, herbs, bark, twigs, some flowers, and delicious garden veggies when they can get their furry paws on it. (Keep your carrots and tomatoes safe!) They’ll also snack on insects occasionally, including snails and grubs.
5. Groundhogs create sweet digs.
Groundhogs don’t simply dig a hole in the ground to live in. They’re way more extravagant than that. Their burrows are impressive and come complete with different rooms for different purposes. For example, there’s a room they sleep in, a bathroom, and more. They’re large, too: They can be up to 66 feet long and may have several levels and exits.
6. They sleep… a lot.
Groundhogs are true hibernators, as they’re asleep from late October to early February, depending on where they live. During that time, their body temperature drops and their heart rate slows. They also go that entire time without eating. In preparation, they eat protein-packed foods for months before their snooze.
7. Their teeth grow in record time.
You’ve probably spotted groundhogs’ cute teeth. They have 18 chewing teeth and four incisors. What’s cool about the two upper incisors is that they’re always growing. In fact, they grow 1/16 of an inch every week so they’re able to chew away at all the vegetation they want.
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