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Chew on this on Groundhog Day
It's Groundhog Day, the one day of the year where the rodent — specifically, Punxsutawney Phil— emerges and allegedly predicts the future, letting us know if we'll have an early spring or six more weeks of winter.
It may be fun to watch the spectacle, but whether or not Phil sees his shadow really doesn't matter anyway, and there's some hard data to prove it. Dating back to 1969, the famous Pennsylvania critter accurately predicts the future only 36 percent of the time. You have better odds of being correct by flipping a coin.
It should be noted that there have been many Punxsatawney Phils over the years, so we can't just lay the blame on one groundhog. All groundhogs are terrible weather forecasters.
But they are some amazing creatures in other regards, which is worth celebrating on their special day, even if it's just one silly groundhog and pony show.
For example ...
(Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)
You can call these mammals groundhogs, or woodchucks, but one of our favorite names they're known by is whistlepig, thanks to the characteristic alarm call they broadcast to others. Even though they are solitary animals and start living on their own at six weeks of age, they will use the alarm call to warn other groundhogs in the area of approaching threats.
(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
"The Woodchuck Song" from the early 20th Century posed the question, and the simple answer is none. The woodchuck name has nothing to do with its preference for wood, but is believed to have originated from a corruption of the Native American words wejack, woodshaw or woodchoock.
Groundhogs are the largest member of the squirrel family and while they are normally seen on the ground, they can climb trees. They clearly need sturdier branches than their tiny relatives.
"They are giant ground squirrels, is what they are," said Richard Thorington, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
A full-grown groundhog weighs an average of 13 pounds and can eat up to a third of its body weight in a day, and it's not unusual for it to eat a pound of vegetation at a time.
Chew on this: For an average American male weighing 195 pounds, the daily equivalent would be for him to eat 64 pounds a day, made up of a few 15-pound meals and some heavy snacking.
(Photo courtesy of Connie Secor)
During hibernation, which lasts approximately 150 days, a groundhog will lose no more than a quarter of its body weight.
The incredible ability to conserve energy is thanks to the deep sleep they go into, when their body temperatures drop from 99 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to five and they'll only breathe twice per minute.
To the unsuspecting person, a hibernating groundhog appears dead.
(Photo via Flickr)
Incredibly dense bones mean they can survive major blows to the skull that would be fatal to other similarly-sized mammals.
Groundhogs would put Bob the Builder to shame. Their burrows can be up to 66 feet long, with multiple chambers and exits, along with multiple levels. Incredibly, one groundhog can move up to 700 pounds of dirt while excavating a burrow.
Not only do they have separate chambers for storing food, they also will build one specifically for defecating.
The stocky little critters are relatively slow, with a top speed of only 8 mph. That's bad news, considering two of its predators, grizzly bears and foxes can top out at 40 mph and 30 mph, respectively. Those extra entrances on their burrows definitely come in handy when threatened.
Just like squirrels, their teeth never stop growing and will grow up to 1/16th of an inch each week. When properly aligned, the upper and lower teeth will grind away and keep the teeth a reasonable length.
However, when things go bad, they go really bad. Teeth that are out of alignment will get too long and the upper incisors can impale the lower jaw, causing death.
Well, at least the children at the District's outreach programs think so.
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