The Groundhog Day


When I see the groundhog’s upper soil nest from outside, it reminds me of the earthworm’s nest in the field. The most impressive thing is that I can see the black and crumble fertile soil from down under the earth. I may not see the creator of the nest for over the next 2 months, but I am sure that they are hibernating and safe during the freezing Winter down under and they will show up around the time of Groundhog Day.

Like earthworm, groundhog (Marmota monax) or marmot are excellent burrowers. Groundhog’s burrow usually has two to five entrances with the primary reason for them to escape from predators. The burrows are particularly large, with up to 20 meters of tunnels buried up to 2 meters. Their burrows have separate rooms for defecation, otherwise known as toilets.

Groundhogs are omnivorous. Mostly are herbivorous which eat wild grasses and other vegetation. Groundhogs are also occasionally insectivorous and eat other small animals including earthworms.

Although a groundhog prefers burrowing on an open field at the edges of the woodland, both of their diet and burrowing habit make them serious nuisance animals around farm and garden. They will eat many commonly grown vegetables, and their burrows can destroy farm ponds and undermine foundations. Their preferred habitat of grassy areas near woods also makes them abundant along roads and highways where they often become the victims of passing cars.

The rest of the story about groundhog that you may have never heard before:

– In the wild. groundhogs can live up to six years with two or three years being their average age. In captivity, groundhogs reportedly live up to 14 years.

– During hibernation, groundhog drops in its body temperature to as low as 2 degrees Celsius, heart rate falls to 4 – 10 beats per minute and breathing rate falls to one breath every six minutes, and they may lose half of their body weight.

– Groundhog is the only animal model for hepatitis virus B studies after chimpanzees. It also can be used in biomedical research on metabolic function, obesity, energy balance, and endocrine, cardiovascular, neurovascular diseases.

– All groundhogs experience periods of torpor, a state of physical and mental inactivity or lethargy, and arousal, a very active moment after that. They wake up early in the morning to make love during the mating season for about 2 weeks in Spring.

– Groundhog is called whistle pig. It’s very interesting and liked by friends because they will whistle, give a loud signal if there is a danger such as predator attacks.

– Groundhogs have great timing. If their offspring are born too late, they can’t get enough weight for Winter. If they’re born too early, the female doesn’t have enough food to feed them.

– The mother nurses the young shortly. After they’re weaned, the young groundhog tends to go off on their own and start practicing building their own home. They are so cute as shown in the photograph by Perry Conway of Corbis.

The Groundhog Day is based on superstition in North America, a kind of a tradition brought by Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites people originating from Europe (Germany). If a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day sees a shadow due to clear weather, it will retreat to its den and Winter will persist for six more weeks, and if it does not see its shadow because of cloudiness, Spring will arrive early.

Although scientific studies have found no consistent correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow or not, the tradition remains popular in modern times. The arrival of the seasons particularly for Spring is getting more unpredictable hot and cold, wet and dry due to global warming. It doesn’t matter that all of the seasons will come on time, the Spring is still coming as scheduled, and the appreciation to the groundhog is still going on. Please don’t blame the groundhogs if they disturb your property and urban environment, merely because of less and less home range and food for them.

Look at the fertile soil that they bring up from the bottom under the earth to celebrate the Groundhog Day in this Lunar New Year of Earth Pig. For anyone who has never seen groundhog in your area, sure that you will see them someday or you may see some of their friends beneficial soil inhabitants as a bio-indicator of life.

Happy Groundhog Day, February 2nd and Welcome the Lunar New Year of Earth Pig, starting from February 5th, 2019 and lasting to January 24th, 2020.

– Bintoro Gunadi


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