Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Groundhog Day

I took some time off today to visit my dentist. Before I left I pulled some weeds out and transplanted a few plants in the back. My neighbor saw me; we started talking and learned that there's a groundhog residing under the shed – that explains commotion the other day when I let Tekko out. He was chasing something under the shed and all I could see was its tail – I thought it was a raccoon. This groundhog is supposedly massive, perhaps bigger than our dog. It was probably feasting on our backyard weeds; I hope it will bring friends over to share the plethora of weeds we harbor annually.

I was hoping for it to come out from its hideout before my departure but instead I found a box turtle sitting on top of oak leaves piled underneath the azalea. So no groundhog but it was still a great day.

Groundhogs (Marmota monax) aka woodchucks are diurnal and will feed on most vegetation especially alfalfa, clover and dandelion. They also enjoy leaves, bark and will occasionally indulge on insects and birds eggs.

These North American marmot species are the most widespread and typically found in fields, small woodlots, pastures, hedgerows and low elevation forests. They prefer to construct dens in well drained soils under a protective cover, which explains its fondness of our backyard. Here are some fun facts about groundhogs from Buzzle:

Facts about Groundhogs
  • Groundhogs are also called whistle pigs.
  • They have four toes on the front foot and five on the back foot. They can grow to a maximum of two feet when measured from head to toe and weigh somewhere around five to fourteen pounds.
  • Groundhogs have grayish brown fur and tails that are bushy. They generally have two layers of fur so that the outside layer can serve as waterproofing layer and the inside layer can maintain the body heat.
  • They dig their burrows with the help of their powerful limbs and thick claws. They are quite adept at it. They can remove up to seven hundred pounds of soil to make a twenty to twenty five foot long burrow.
  • The burrows that Groundhogs make have many chambers and also have more than one entrance, at times even three entrances.
  • They make a loud whistling sound as an alarm bell to make everybody aware that there is danger around.
  • These groundhogs are herbivorous and they eat plants like grass, clover and alfalfa. They also eat strawberries, peas, pansies and garden beans.
  • Groundhogs have several enemies who are predators like foxes, bobcats and human beings.
  • When it is close to autumn the groundhogs start gaining weight and become fatter.
  • During hibernation the body temperature of the groundhogs decreases from ninety-nine degree Fahrenheit to forty degree Fahrenheit. Their heartbeat also decreases from eighty beats per minute to five per minute. The breathing is also reduced from twelve to approximately four per minute. They hibernate to save themselves from the cold weather and when they hibernate their whole body metabolism slows down and the body gets cold so that it consumes less energy since it uses the stored body fat.
  • Groundhogs have amazing sense of hearing very sharp eyesight.
  • The breeding season of the ground hogs last from somewhere around March to mid or late April which is sometime immediately after hibernation finishes. Some people are of the opinion that they end the hibernation period just because the mating season starts. The gestation period is of about 28 to 32 days and the male groundhog leaves the day as the time for birth of young ones approaches.
  • The span of life for these rodents is two to three years approximately but they can survive up to six years in the forests and up to ten years in captivity.
With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy.’’
Lope de Vega

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