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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

"Also known as the Groundhog or the Whistle-pig, the Woodchuck thrives in forest borders through much of the eastern United States, across Canada, and into Alaska. Socially, Woodchucks live singly from the time they are weaned at six weeks of age. They are diurnal vegetarians, consuming clover, dandelion, chickweed, alfalfa, sorrel, beans, peas, grains, grasses, and other plants. In their burrows, they sleep through the night, raise their young, and spend the winter in hibernation. When it is hibernating, the Woodchuck's body temperature drops almost to the air temperature in its den and its heartbeat slows from 75 beats per minute to about 4. Curled into a tight ball, with its head between its front legs, it seems to be dead."

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
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Distribution

Range Description

This species ranges from central Alaska in the United States, east through Canada south of the tree line to Labrador; in eastern North America south to Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas; in the west absent from the Great Plains, extending down the western mountains to northern Idaho in the United States (Kwiecinski 1998).
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Marmota monax is the most widespread North American marmot species. The southern limits of its range extend from eastern Oklahoma, northern Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia to North Carolina. The eastern limits of its range extend from North Carolina, along the Atlantic coast, to Labrador, Canada. It's northern limits range from Labrador to southern Alaska.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 2007. Woodchuck. Pp. 741 in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 12, 15 Edition. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc..
  • Forsyth, A. 1985. Mammals of the Canadian Wild. Camden East, Ontario: Camden House.
  • Grzimek, B. 2003. Woodchuck. Pp. 152-153 in M McDade, ed. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 16/5, 2 Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
  • Kays, R., D. Wilson. 2002. The Mammals of North America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • Kwiencinski, G. 1998. Marmota monax. Mammalian Species, 591: 1-8.
  • Whitaker, Jr., J., W. Hamilton, Jr.. 1998. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends from central Alaska eastward across Canada south of treeline to Labrador, and south in eastern North America to Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas; in the west the species is absent from the Great Plains and ranges southward only to northern Idaho (Kwiecinski 1998).

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Geographic Range

Woodchucks (also known as groundhogs or whistle-pigs) are only native to the Nearctic region and are found in parts of Alaska, across southern Canada, and throughout the northeastern and east central United States.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Woodchucks are stocky in appearance and often stand up on their hind legs, making them look tall. Their pelage varies greatly in color but ranges from gray to cinnamon to dark brown. Their body is covered with white-tipped guard hairs giving them a grizzled appearance. Their paws vary in color from a typical black to dark brown in most subspecies. However, one subspecies has paws that appear pink. Their short bushy tail is often black to dark brown and is 20 to 25% their total body length. They weigh from 2 to 6 kg, range from 415 to 675 mm in total length, and have tails that range from 100 to 160 mm in length. Although males and females are the same color, males are larger than females. Woodchucks have white teeth, which is uncharacteristic of rodents, and a dental formula of 1/1, 0/0, 2/1, 3/3, for a total of 22 teeth. They have rounded ears that can cover the external auditory canal which prevents dirt from entering the ear canal while burrowing.

Range mass: 2 to 6 kg.

Range length: 415 to 675 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 3.696 W.

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Physical Description

Woodchucks have a heavy, chunky body with short, powerful legs for digging. Males are slightly larger than females. Woodchucks have an underfur that is thick, woolly and grey with yellow tips. Their outer fur has alternating bands of dark and light colors, making them look frosted. They have small, rounded ears, small black eyes, and a dark, bushy tail. Woodchucks have blackish-brown feet with well-developed claws. They have two teeth that never stop growing. These teeth need to be worn down by chewing or they will continue to grow and hurt, or even kill, the animal. Woodchucks are from 415 to 675 mm long from the head to the tail and their tail is from 100 to 150 mm long.

Range mass: 3.0 to 5.0 kg.

Range length: 415.0 to 675.0 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 3.696 W.

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Size

Length: 82 cm

Weight: 6400 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: Males are 3% heavier than females.

Length:
Range: 415-675 mm

Weight:
Range: 3-4 kg
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Diagnostic Description

Short tail, 20-25% of body length (25% or greater in other marmots); head without white markings, except around nose, that are present in other marmots; sides of neck are concolorous with upperparts (buffy in M. FLAVIVENTRIS); forelegs overlaid with deep reddish brown hairs; feet blackish brown; upper tooth rows are parallel (diverging in other marmots) (Kwiecinski 1998).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It inhabits low elevation woodland-field ecotones, especially along fields, roads, and streams. It commonly occurs in farmlands and in proximity to human structures. Prefers open areas, such as meadows, pastures, old fields, orchards. Also founds in hilly and rocky areas in open woodlands having fields or meadows adjacent (Caire et al. 1989). For hibernation prefers hedgerows, woods, steep inclines in stony ground, haystacks, or sites with good drainage and a southern exposure (Kwiecinski 1998).

Young are born in a den in an extensive burrow system. Breeding period extends from early March to mid-April. Gestation lasts 31-32 days. Young are born from April to mid-May. A single litter of 2-6 (average four) is produced each year. Sexually mature in one year. Primarily solitary, except during breeding, though limited social interaction may occur at other times. Abandoned burrows are widely used as den sites by other animals (Kwiecinski 1998).

Diet includes a wide variety of herbs, grasses, and the leaves of shrubs; also invertebrates.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Marmota monax has a wide geographic range and inhabits many different ecosystems. It is typically found in low elevation forests, small woodlots, fields, pastures, and hedgerows. Human activities (e.g., clearing forests, building roads, and agriculture) have increased food access and abundance allowing M. monax to thrive. It constructs dens in well drained soils, and most have summer (located near food sources) and winter (located near protective cover) dens.

Range elevation: low elevation (low) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest

Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Comments: Woodchucks live in open habitats (meadows, pastures, old fields, orchards) that often border wooded areas, which may be used for hibernation (Caire et al. 1989, Kwiecinski 1998). In Connecticut, burrow systems were often along woodland edges and brushy fence rows (Swihart 1992). Young are born in a den in an extensive burrow system.

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Woodchucks usually live close to woodlands. They prefer fields, roadsides, streams, and agricultural land. They construct burrows and prefer soils that are easy to dig in.

Habitat Regions: temperate

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

In Connecticut, post-breeding-season adults occupying home ranges used an average of 8 burrow systems; home range averaged about 4 ha in males, 2 ha in females (Swihart 1992). In Quebec and Iowa, home range was 7.8 ha and 4.1 ha, respectively, for males, smaller in females (see Swihart 1992). Females in Ohio had small home ranges (0.25 ha) after emergence from hibernation, but expanded them (to an average 1.35 ha) following after birth of young (Meier 1992). All juveniles disperse, but some remain in natal home range for one year (Kwiecinski 1998).

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Trophic Strategy

Woodchucks are diurnal and their feeding activity is highest during morning and afternoon. Foraging bouts last less than 2 hours. Preferred forage includes alfalfa (Medicago sativa), clover (Genus: Trifolium), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Other foods include bark, leaves, insects, and bird eggs. All woodchucks store fat for winter hibernation.

Animal Foods: eggs; insects; mollusks

Plant Foods: leaves; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Comments: Consumes a wide variety of herbs, grasses, and the leaves of shrubs; also invertebrates (Hamilton 1934, Arsenault and Romig 1985, Kwiecinski 1998).

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Food Habits

Woodchucks are almost exclusively herbivores and eat a variety of vegetation including dandelion, chickweed, sorrel, clover, alfalfa, beans, peas, grains, and grasses. They sometimes eat Insecta, Gastropoda, and Aves. Woodchucks often sit on their back feet and pull plants over with their forepaws. In early spring, when there is not a lot of green vegetation, they may eat the bark, buds, and twigs of shrubs and fruit trees. They become very fat during the fall in preparation for their winter-long hibernation.

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Associations

Abandoned woodchuck dens are used by a number of different species, including rabbits, skunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, weasels, ground squirrels, river otters, chipmunks, meadow voles, short-tailed shrews, house mice, pine voles, white-footed mice, lizards, snakes, and arthropods. They are also host to a number of different parasite species, including botflies, nematodes, protozoa, tularemia, rabies, chiggers, mites, ticks, fleas, and lice. Woodchucks are also prey for many predators species.

Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; creates habitat; soil aeration

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • botfly (Oestridae)
  • nematodes (Nematoda)
  • protozoa (Protista)
  • tularemia (Francisella tularensis)
  • rabies (Lyssavirus)
  • chiggers and mites (Trombiculidae)
  • ticks (Acarina)
  • fleas (Siphonaptera)
  • lice (Phthiraptera)

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Woodchucks avoid predators by climbing trees and looking up periodically while feeding. Their large body size may deters some predators. They often use their teeth to defend themselves and produce a shrill whistle when threatened. Whistles also serve as a warning call to conspecifics, especially juveniles. Young woodchucks hide in and around the den for protection from potential predators. Known predators include gray wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), black bears (Ursus americanus), lynx (Lynx canadensis), bobcats (Lynx rufus), hawks (Accipitridae), and snakes (Serpentes).

Known Predators:

  • gray wolf (Canis lupus)
  • coyote (Canis latrans)
  • domestic dog (Canis familiaris)
  • red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
  • gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
  • black bear (Ursus americanus)
  • lynx (Lynx canadensis)
  • bobcat (Lynx rufus)
  • hawks (Accipitridae)
  • snakes (Serpentes)

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Ecosystem Roles

Woodchucks influence the how many and what kinds of plants there are in their communities by eating them. Woodchucks are also important and abundant food sources for many large predators in their communities.

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Predation

Woodchucks use their burrows to escape from predators. They are preyed upon by large predators such as Canis lupus, Canis latrans, and large Accipitridae and Strigiformes. Their young are sometimes taken by Squamata.

Known Predators:

  • snakes (Serpentes)
  • coyotes (Canis_latrans)
  • gray wolves (Canis_lupus)
  • large hawks (Accipitridae)

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Known predators

Marmota monax is prey of:
Squamata
Accipitridae
Canis lupus
Canis latrans

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

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Global Abundance

10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

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General Ecology

Densities are highly variable, ranging from 0.1/hectare in Quebec to 3.3./hectare in Ohio (Kwiecinski 1998).

Primarily solitary, except during breeding, though limited social interaction may occur at other times.

Abandoned burrows are widely used as den sites by other animals (Kwiecinski 1998).

Woodchucks lose about 33-40% of their body mass during hibernation. Most of the loss occurs when they arouse and warm up every week or two.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Woodchucks are territorial and non-social. Sight, smell, and sound are important for communication among conspecifics. Secretions from facial and anal glands are used to demarcate territorial boundaries. They also hiss, growl, shriek, whistle, teeth-chatter, and bark. Woodchucks use their sight to detect predators and to make visual threats to other conspecifics. Vocal threats, visual threats, and fighting are used to establish social rank.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

Woodchucks are very vocal mammals, hence the name "whistle-pig." When alarmed, a woodchuck gives a loud, shrill whistle. Teeth grinding and chattering are common when woodchucks are cornered. Woodchucks have also been heard to bark, squeal, and whistle when fighting with other woodchucks

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Cyclicity

Comments: Woodchucks emerge from hibernation in winter or early spring, depending on location. The earliest emergence occurs in the southern part of the range; in the north, woodchucks generally emerge much later than "groundhog day" (February 2)..

Daily activity may vary seasonally. Most activity occurs in early morning and late afternoon; sometimes woodchucks are active at night (Koprowski 1987).

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Life Expectancy

Woodchucks live 4 to 6 years in the wild but, due to predation and disease, often do not live past age 3. Woodchucks may live up to 10 years in captivity.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
2 to 6 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
10 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
4 to 6 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
14 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Woodchucks can live up to six years in the wild, and ten years in captivity.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
6.0 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
10.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
14 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 14 years (captivity) Observations: Record longevity in captivity is 14 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Woodchucks are polygynous, with males having multiple mates per season. Male woodchucks emerge from hibernation earlier than females in order to establish territories, dominance hierarchies, and to search for mates. Older, more dominant males hold territories whereas younger males are nomadic. With the exception of mating season, woodchucks are non-social, and during breeding season, male-female interactions are limited to copulation. Females are monoestrous and mating occurs only during the spring.

Mating System: polygynous

Breeding occurs shortly after emergence from hibernation in the spring, although the exact time varies by latitude. Female woodchucks give birth to 1 to 9 offspring, with most litters ranging between 3 and 5 pups. Pups weigh between 26 and 27 grams upon birth. Gestation lasts from 31 to 32 days and weaning occurs around 44 days old. Pups become independent very quickly and leave the mother around age 2 months old. Some woodchucks become sexually mature at 1 year old, however, they often have a lower pregnancy rate than others. Typically, woodchucks become sexually mature by age 2. Breeding in captive individuals can occur year round.

Breeding interval: Woodchucks breed once yearly

Breeding season: Mating occurs between February and May depending on latitude

Range number of offspring: 1 to 9.

Range gestation period: 31 to 32 days.

Average weaning age: 44 days.

Average time to independence: 2 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 2 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 to 2 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; induced ovulation ; fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 27 g.

Average number of offspring: 4.5.

Following birth, females provide all of the care for woodchuck pups. Pups nurse for approximately 44 days and become independent at around 2 months of age. Occasionally, females inherit their mothers den. Pups use the den for protection while the mother is away.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); inherits maternal/paternal territory

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 2007. Woodchuck. Pp. 741 in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. 12, 15 Edition. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc..
  • Forsyth, A. 1985. Mammals of the Canadian Wild. Camden East, Ontario: Camden House.
  • Grzimek, B. 2003. Woodchuck. Pp. 152-153 in M McDade, ed. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 16/5, 2 Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
  • Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
  • Kwiencinski, G. 1998. Marmota monax. Mammalian Species, 591: 1-8.
  • Whitaker, Jr., J., W. Hamilton, Jr.. 1998. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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Mating takes place right after emergence from hibernation, often early March to mid-April. Gestation lasts 31-32 days. Young are born from April to mid-May. Juveniles, about a month old, emerge from burrows in spring, and activity ends in fall, the exact timing varying with location (shorter active season in the north than in the south). Reproductive females produce a single litter of 2-6 (average 4) each year. Individuals become sexually mature in one year.

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Woodchucks mate in early spring. Females are pregnant for about 30 days. They give birth to from 2 to 7 young that are naked and blind at birth. They are cared for and nursed by their mother in her burrow until they are about 6 weeks old. They are then weaned and leave their mother's burrow soon after that. Woodchucks breed only once per year.

Breeding season: March and April

Range number of offspring: 2.0 to 7.0.

Average gestation period: 30.0 days.

Average weaning age: 6.0 weeks.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1.0 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1.0 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); viviparous

Average birth mass: 27 g.

Average gestation period: 32 days.

Average number of offspring: 4.5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
548 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
548 days.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Marmota monax

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G. & Cannings, S.)

Reviewer/s
Amori, G. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority) & Chanson, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern because it is widespread, common throughout its range, and there are no major threats.

History
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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Due to their abundance and broad geographic range, woodchucks are listed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Distributed across much of northern and eastern North America.

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As a result of deforestation and maintenance of the land of cultivated fields and pastures, the woodchuck has thrived and multiplied. Woodchucks are favorite targets for sport hunting, which helps control their numbers. Their ability to reproduce quickly is sufficient to prevent local extermination.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Population

Population
This species is common. Reported densities are highly variable, ranging from 0.1/hectare in Quebec to 3.3./hectare in Ohio (Kwiecinski 1998). However, populations are loosely structured because burrow systems are not spatially clustered and animals are asocial and territorial.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
There are no major threats to this species. Sometimes regarded as a pest when causing damage to crops, gardens, landscaping, or structures.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This species is not of conservation concern, and its range includes several protected areas.
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Management Requirements: Dolbeer et al. (1991) tested the efficacy of gas cartridges to kill woodchucks in burrows and found them to be effective; however, overall reduction of a population may be difficult due to enhanced survival and reproduction of remaining woodchucks and rapid recolonization from surrounding areas. The cartridges are available from: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho Supply Depot, Pocatello, Idaho. See Swihart and Conover (1991) for information on the effectiveness of various chemical repellents on garden plants.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Marmota monax is known to destroy gardens, pastures, and agricultural crops. Their burrows have been known to injure livestock and damage farm equipment and building foundations.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Woodchucks have been used in biomedical research investigating hepatitis B, metabolic function, obesity, energy balance, the endocrine system, reproduction, neurology, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and neoplastic disease. Additionally, they are often targeted as game by hunters.

Positive Impacts: research and education

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Economic Uses

Comments: Sometimes regarded as a pest when causing damage to crops, gardens, landscaping, or structures.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Woodchucks are agricultural pests. They raid gardens and their burrows damage farm machinery and destroy building foundations.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The burrowing activities of woodchucks often provide homes for many other animals. Also, plant growth around burrows is made better by fertilization from buried fecal materials.  The woodchuck is often a subject of entertainment:  1) Outdoor antics of the woodchuck are entertaining to many animal watchers.  2) American folklore of Ground Hog's Day: the supposition is that when the woodchuck arised from hibernation on February 2 and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  3) Many movies have been made with woodchucks (or groundhogs) as the main characters such as both the "Caddyshack" films.  4) "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

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Wikipedia

Groundhog

The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck, or whistlepig,[2] is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.[3] Other marmots, such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas, but the groundhog is a lowland creature. It is widely distributed in North America and common in the northeastern and central United States and Canada. Groundhogs are found as far north as Alaska, with their habitat extending southeast to Georgia.[4]

Description[edit]

The groundhog is the largest sciurid in its geographical range, typically measuring 40 to 65 cm (16 to 26 in) long (including a 15 cm (6 in) tail) and weighing 2 to 4 kg (4 to 9 lb). In areas with fewer natural predators and large amounts of alfalfa, groundhogs can grow to 80 cm (30 in) and 14 kg (31 lb). Groundhogs are well adapted for digging, with short but powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. Unlike other sciurids, the groundhog's spine is curved, more like that of a mole, and the tail is comparably shorter as well — only about one-fourth of body length. Suited to their temperate habitat, groundhogs are covered with two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guard hairs that gives the groundhog its distinctive "frosted" appearance.[citation needed]

Etymology[edit]

The etymology of the name woodchuck is unrelated to wood or chucking. It stems from an Algonquian (possibly Narragansett) name for the animal, wuchak.[5] The similarity between the words has led to the popular tongue-twister:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood![6]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The groundhog prefers open country and the edges of woodland, and is rarely far from a burrow entrance. Since the clearing of forests provided it with much more suitable habitat, the groundhog population is probably higher now than it was before the arrival of European settlers in North America. Groundhogs are often hunted for sport, which tends to control their numbers. However, their ability to reproduce quickly has tended to mitigate the depopulating effects of sport hunting.[7] As a consequence, the groundhog is a familiar animal to many people in the United States and Canada.[citation needed]

Survival[edit]

Groundhogs can climb trees to escape predators

In the wild, groundhogs can live up to six years with two or three being average. In captivity, groundhogs reportedly live from 9 to 14 years. Common predators for groundhogs include wolves, cougars, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, eagles, and dogs. Young groundhogs are often at risk for predation by snakes, which easily enter the burrow.[citation needed]

Behavior[edit]

A motionless individual, alert to danger, will whistle when alarmed to warn other groundhogs

Despite their heavy-bodied appearance, groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and occasionally climb trees when escaping predators or when they want to survey their surroundings.[8] They prefer to retreat to their burrows when threatened; if the burrow is invaded, the groundhog tenaciously defends itself with its two large incisors and front claws. Groundhogs are generally agonistic and territorial among their own species, and may skirmish to establish dominance.[9] Outside their burrow, individuals are alert when not actively feeding. It is common to see one or more nearly-motionless individuals standing erect on their hind feet watching for danger. When alarmed, they use a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony, hence the name "whistle-pig".[7][10] Groundhogs may squeal when fighting, seriously injured, or caught by a predator.[10] Other sounds groundhogs may make are low barks and a sound produced by grinding their teeth.[10] When groundhogs are frightened, the hairs of the tail stand straight up, giving the tail the appearance of a hair brush.[citation needed]

Diet[edit]

Mostly herbivorous, groundhogs primarily eat wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries and agricultural crops, when available.[9] Groundhogs also eat grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails and other small animals, but are not as omnivorous as many other Sciuridae. Like squirrels, they also have been observed sitting up eating nuts such as shagbark hickory, but unlike squirrels, do not bury them for future use.[citation needed]

Burrows[edit]

Groundhogs are excellent burrowers, using burrows for sleeping, rearing young, and hibernating. The average groundhog has been estimated to move approximately 1 m3 (35 cu ft), or 2,500 kg (5,500 lb), of soil when digging a burrow.[citation needed] Though groundhogs are the most solitary of the marmots, several individuals may occupy the same burrow. Groundhog burrows usually have two to five entrances, providing groundhogs their primary means of escape from predators. Burrows are particularly large, with up to 14 metres (46 ft) of tunnels buried up to 1.5 metres (5 ft) underground, and can pose a serious threat to agricultural and residential development by damaging farm machinery and even undermining building foundations.[7]

Hibernation[edit]

Groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation, and often build a separate "winter burrow" for this purpose. This burrow is usually in a wooded or brushy area and is dug below the frost line and remains at a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April, but in more temperate areas, they may hibernate as little as three months.[11] To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. They emerge from hibernation with some remaining body fat to live on until the warmer spring weather produces abundant plant materials for food. Groundhogs are mostly diurnal, and are often active early in the morning or late afternoon.[12]

Reproduction[edit]

A groundhog mother and her cubs (kits) in a suburban yard

Usually groundhogs breed in their second year, but a small proportion may breed in their first. The breeding season extends from early March to mid- or late April, after hibernation. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 31–32 day[13] gestation period. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male leaves the den. One litter is produced annually, usually containing two to six blind, hairless and helpless young. Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own dens at five to six weeks of age. Groundhog mothers introduce their young to the wild once their fur is grown in and they can see. They encourage their young to copy their behaviors and during this time may differ from usual routines.[citation needed]

Relationship with humans[edit]

Both their diet and habit of burrowing make them serious nuisance animals around farms and gardens. They will eat many commonly grown vegetables, and their burrows can destroy farm ponds and undermine foundations and there is a thriving business exterminating them. 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.[citation needed]

Groundhogs may be raised in captivity, but their aggressive nature can pose problems. Doug Schwartz, a zookeeper and groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo, has been quoted as saying "They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. Their natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."[14]

In the United States and Canada, the yearly February 2nd Groundhog Day celebration has given the groundhog recognition and popularity, as has the movie of the same name. The most popularly known of these groundhogs are Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie, and Jimmy the Groundhog, kept as part of Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania; Wiarton, Ontario; and Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, respectively. Famous Southern groundhogs include Smith Lake Jake from Graysville, Alabama and General Beauregard Lee, based at the Yellow River Game Ranch outside Atlanta, Georgia.[citation needed]

Groundhogs are used in medical research on hepatitis B-induced liver cancer. When infected with woodchuck hepatitis B virus, they are at 100% risk for developing liver cancer, making them a good model for testing hepatitis B and liver cancer therapies.[citation needed]

Groundhog burrows have been known to reveal at least one archaeological site, the Ufferman Site in the U.S. state of Ohio.[15] Although archaeologists have never excavated the Ufferman Site, numerous artifacts have been found because of the activities of local groundhogs. They favor the loose soil of the esker upon which the site lies, and their many diggings for their burrows have brought to the surface significant numbers of human and animal bones, pottery, and bits of stone.[15]

Robert Frost's poem "A Drumlin Woodchuck" uses the imagery of a groundhog dug in to a small ridge as a metaphor for his emotional reticence.[citation needed] A groundhog figures prominently in the movie Groundhog Day.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Linzey, A. V. & NatureServe (Hammerson, G. & Cannings, S.) (2008). "Marmota monax". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "Marmota monax". North American Mammals. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Thorington, R. W., Jr.; Hoffman, R. S. (2005). "Family Sciuridae". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 802. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  4. ^ Marmota monax (Linnaeus); Woodchuck. Pick4.pick.uga.edu. Retrieved on 2011-09-15.
  5. ^ Marmota Monax: Woodchuck. animaldiversity.com. Retrieved on 2015-02-24.
  6. ^ Lyrics and Words for Children's Nursery Rhymes and Songs. BusSongs.com. Retrieved on 2011-09-15.
  7. ^ a b c Light, Jessica E. "Animal Diversity Web: Marmota monax". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  8. ^ Chapman, J.A.; Feldhammer, G.A. (1982). Wild Mammals of North America, Biology, Management, Economics. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801823536. 
  9. ^ a b Whitaker, John O; Hamilton, W J. (1998). Mammals of the Eastern United States. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3475-0. 
  10. ^ a b c Hinterland Who's Who ("Canadian Wildlife Service: Mammals: Woodchuck"). Hww.ca. Retrieved on 2011-09-15.
  11. ^ Woodchucks in Rhode Island. (PDF) . dem.ri.gov. Retrieved on 2011-09-15.
  12. ^ Woodchuck, Illinois University
  13. ^ Woodchuck. Marmota monax. (PDF). North Caroline Wildlife
  14. ^ Newman, Andy (2007-12-01). "Grooming a Weatherman for his TV Debut, and Hoping He Doesn't Bite The Host". The New York Times 
  15. ^ a b Owen, Lorrie K., ed. Dictionary of Ohio Historic Places. Vol. 1. St. Clair Shores: Somerset, 1999, p. 328.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bezuidenhout, A. J. (Abraham Johannes) and Evans, Howard E. (Howard Edward). Anatomy of the woodchuck (Marmota monax). Lawrence, KS: American Society of Mammalogists, 2005. ISBN 9781891276439. Online at doi:10.5962/bhl.title.61270
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