Groundhogs: Marmota Monax
Also known as woodchucks, Groundhogs are common in rural areas, but they can also be found in urban areas. The groundhog belongs to the squirrel family and can grow to be nearly two feet tall and weigh ten pounds or more. Its front feet are extremely powerful when it comes to digging burrows. Their burrows can be up to five feet deep and have multiple entrances. As the animal grows, the entrance hole gets bigger. It will eventually be a foot wide and surrounded by a mound of soil.
For home vegetable and flower gardeners, groundhogs can be a real pain. They eat almost any plant material, but tomatoes are their favorite. Burrowing under garden sheds or other outdoor structures is also a possibility. 1Go To Source extension.umd.edu -“Groundhogs”
Learn More: Common Pest Species
Description Of Groundhogs
The woodchuck is one of the largest squirrel family members in the United States. With short, strong legs and long, curved claws on the front feet, this stocky, medium-sized mammal is built for digging. The fur is light to dark brown in color, with a frosted appearance due to lighter guard hairs. The feet range in color from dark brown to black. The woodchuck has a short, bushy tail with almost flattened and small, rounded ears that can close over the ear openings to keep debris out while it is underground. Males and females have similar appearances, with the exception that males are slightly larger. 2Go To Source portal.ct.gov -“Woodchuck”
Average Woodchuck Size
- Adult Weight: 5-10 lbs
- Body Length: 16-20 in
- Tail Length: 5-7 in
Few woodchucks actually emerge to search for their shadows on groundhog day, contrary to popular belief. In March, especially at higher elevations, they are more likely to emerge from their burrows. Woodchucks are primarily diurnal, meaning they are active during daylight hours, though older males who emerge first in the spring may leave their burrows at night.
The semi-fossorial woodchuck lives underground, excavating burrows with stout claws, powerful legs, and sturdy incisors, which they use to cut through roots and pry loose small stones. This species’ extensive burrowing is important for mixing soils and eventually providing shelter for various other wildlife.
Active above ground and their habit of sunbathing on logs and rocks in the spring make them noticeable along many roads. Woodchucks typically move by ambling along on the soles of their feet, but they can also run at speeds of 10 mph per hour by loping or galloping. They can swim and climb well, reaching 50 ft in trees, but they spend most of their time on or under the ground. 3Go To Source esf.edu -“Woodchuck (Marmota monax Erxleben)”
Hibernation Habits Of Woodchucks
Groundhogs gorge themselves during the summer and fall months in preparation for the coming winter. Groundhogs hibernate deep in their burrows in the late fall. Groundhogs are referred to as “true hibernators” because their bodies enter a true dormant state in which their body temperature and heart rate both drop dramatically. Hibernation, contrary to popular belief, does not involve the animal remaining dormant for the entire winter. For about a week, the animal’s body temperature and heart rate will drop to around 5 degrees Celsius and 5 beats per minute, after which the groundhog wakes up for a day, toss and turn a little, and then return to its dormant state. During hibernation, this process continues. 4Go To Source vetmed.illinois.edu -“Groundhogs and Beavers”
Groundhog Reproduction Cycle
Male groundhogs will emerge from hibernation in late winter or early spring, with most of their range emerging in March, and begin the mating process by establishing territories and dominance over other males. When the groundhogs emerge from hibernation, it depends on their habitat’s latitude and altitude, with southern groundhog populations emerging earlier in the year than northern populations and those at high altitudes. In the days and weeks following, females emerge from hibernation, and mating occurs in March or April.
Female groundhogs have only one fertile period per year, and they only mate in the spring. Because groundhogs do not form monogamous pairs, dominant male groundhogs will mate with multiple females during this time. Female and male groundhogs do not interact with one another after they have mated.
Habitat Of Woodchucks
Woodchucks are found in a variety of habitats across the United States. Meadows, pastures, crop fields, and yards near a wooded edge are their preferred habitats. They’re common along fence rows or roadways in brushy or weedy areas.
Summer burrows are found near grassy or agricultural fields where food is available, sometimes under a barn. Winter burrows are usually found in wooded areas, whereas summer burrows are found near grassy or agricultural fields where food is available. A woodchuck is likely to have more than one summer burrow and multiple entrances. Except during the breeding season, woodchucks are territorial and will defend their burrows against intruders. 5Go To Source in.gov -“Groundhog”
Groundhog Range & Distribution
The majority of the central and eastern United States and parts of Alaska and Canada are home to groundhogs. Groundhogs, also known as “edge” species, prefer areas where forest or woodland meets a well-vegetated open field or meadow. Any north American forest with heavy vegetation or open field provides good habitats for a groundhog.
Diet Of Groundhogs
Groundhogs are primarily herbivores who eat common garden crops, but they will occasionally eat insects and worms:
- Greens- Lettuce, Alfalfa, Clovers, Dandelions, Daisies, Red Mulberry, Hackberry Leaves
- Bark & Twigs- Black Cherry Trees, Dog Wood Trees
- Vegetables- Carrots, Celery, Corn, Peas, Beans
- Fruits- Berries, Cherries, Apples
- Insects- June bugs, Snails, Grasshoppers
Groundhogs are attracted to these foods. As a result, the more groundhog food you have in your garden, the more likely groundhogs are to dig burrows near your house. This is especially true because groundhogs don’t travel more than 150 feet for food.
Woodchucks As Pests
The feeding and burrowing habits of the woodchuck occasionally conflict with human interests. Farms, home gardens, orchards, and nurseries, as well as buildings and dikes, are all susceptible to damage. Crops like alfalfa, soybeans, beans, squash, tomatoes, and peas can be expensive and time-consuming to repair. It’s possible that homeowners will lose their entire tomato patch. Woodchucks gnaw on woody vegetation, which can harm fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. Farm equipment, horses, and riders are harmed by mounds of earth from excavated burrow systems and holes formed at burrow entrances. Burrowing has the potential to weaken dikes and building foundations. 6Go To Source extension.psu.edu -“Woodchucks”
Damage Caused By Groundhogs
Burrowing is a favorite pastime of groundhogs. They have the ability to dig 45-foot-long, five-foot-deep tunnels beneath your house. These holes have the potential to cause significant damage.
Water damage is the beginning of the issues. Water may flow directly beneath your home as a result of the groundhog tunnels. This can cause your foundation’s existing water balance to be disrupted, as well as excessive drainage problems in the event of severe weather.
The first sign of groundhog tunnels is increased moisture and humidity in your basement or crawl space. This could lead to mold issues in your home.
The erosion of the soil structure will occur over time due to the ongoing water patterns beneath your home. The expanding void may eventually cause foundation failure.
Woodchuck Trapping, Removal & Exclusion
The most effective method of woodchuck control is exclusion. Because groundhogs can climb and dig well, fences around gardens and crop fields should be at least three feet high. Burrowing animals are discouraged from digging under the fence by wire deterrents installed below the fence line. Block off areas beneath porches and decks to prevent woodchucks from burrowing and constructing dens beneath them.
Woodchucks can cause enough damage to lawns, gardens, and crops to warrant their removal. Groundhogs can be diseased or evasive, so property owners should never attempt to trap and remove them without the assistance of trained wildlife professionals. Animal removal experts at Animals Happen have the knowledge, training, and tools needed to remove woodchucks humanely and efficiently.
- “Groundhogs | University of Maryland Extension.” University Of Maryland Extension, University Of Maryland, extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/groundhogs. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.
- “Woodchuck.” CT.Gov – Connecticut’s Official State Website, State Of Connecticut, portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Woodchuck. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.
- Communications, Esf Office Of. “Woodchuck | Adirondack Ecological Center | SUNY ESF | College of Environmental Science and Forestry.” SUNY College Of Environmental Science And Forestry, State University of New York, www.esf.edu/aec/adks/mammals/woodchuck.htm#:%7E:text=Reproduction%3A%20Woodchucks%20breed%20soon%20after,5)%20in%20an%20underground%20nest. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.
- “Groundhogs and Beavers | Wildlife Medical Clinic at Illinois.” University Of Illinois, U Of I, vetmed.illinois.edu/wildlife/fun-facts/groundhogs-and-beavers. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.
- “DNR: Groundhog.” Indiana Department Of Natural Resources, State of Indiana, www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/5694.htm. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.
- Brittingham, Margaret C. “Woodchucks.” Penn State Extension, The Pennsylvania State University, 27 Feb. 2021, extension.psu.edu/woodchucks.