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Karl's Kolumn

GROUNDHOG DAY… Landing on February 2 each year, not many seem to care. I, long ago, gave up on saluting Watervliet Willy (a la Punxsutawney Phil) as a corny romp on Feb. 2. I argued another manufactured holiday was a “gimme.” There was (is) a coterie of groundhogs living under the ruins of the former Judd Lumber.

Every sunshiny Feb. 2, primps the local groundhogs to come out of their burrows to bask on the warm stones.

Here’s where the wonderful Google comes in … I was idly researching for information on groundhogs and clicked the Google button …

Every February 2, Americans celebrate Groundhog Day. On that day, Punxsutawney Phil, a Pennsylvania groundhog, predicts how many weeks of winter remain. While you’ve likely heard about this fun legend, what else do you know about this native rodent? Philadelphia Parks & Rec’s Tony Croasdale, Environmental Educator at Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Center, compiled nine fun facts for you:

Groundhogs are squirrels. They are the largest of five squirrel (Sciuridae) species in Philadelphia. Specifically, they are a species of marmot, which are part of the ground squirrels. The other squirrel species include Eastern Gray Squirrel, American Red Squirrel, Southern Flying Squirrel, and Eastern Chipmunk.

Laying low. The groundhog is the only marmot species that lives in lowland temperate regions. The other species all live in mountains or tundra.

Burrow BNB. Groundhogs live in burrows that they dig themselves. Abandoned groundhog burrows are often used by other animals like foxes.

Going up. Groundhogs can climb trees like other squirrels.

A groundhog by any other name… Groundhogs are also called woodchucks, thick woods badgers, and whistlepigs. Their scientific name is Marmota monax.

So, do they really throw wood? The name Woodchuck does not refer to the ability to “chuck wood.” It is an English interpretation of the Algonquin word “wucack,” which means digger. Whistlepig refers to the whistling noise groundhogs make to warn each other of predators.

Allow us to badger you with one more name. Groundhogs were also called the “Thick Woods Badger.” This helped separate them from the (sort of) similar-looking American Badger. Badgers, like ferrets, are a type of weasel and not rodents.

In the movies. In The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges’s character The Dude incorrectly refers to a European Ferret as a “nice marmot.” John Goodman’s character Walter refers to it as an “aquatic rodent.” Marmots (including groundhogs) are rodents but are not aquatic. A groundhog can be accurately described as a nice marmot.

Celebrated in song. The legendary Philadelphia band The Dead Milkmen’s “Badger Song” mentions woodchucks.

Back to Watervliet and groundhogs. My thoughts… Not everybody loves groundhogs. They have a natural-born tendency to love digging, deeper the better. And retaining walls and such, cave in. I have seen big, big groundhogs teaching young GH, the ropes. A buddy of mine, and I, were exploring a woodpile. BB guns at the ready, we spooked a big groundhog into its burrow. And its’ young out the other side. I jumped over the woodpile and scattered the young. My buddy screeched and pulled his arm out of the burrow entrance. With blood squirting out of his finger, he ran for home. I had to run back for our BB guns.


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