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Groundhog Day – All Over Again

via steveissak, Flickr Creative Commons

This humble, sleepy animal annually thrust into the glare of a thousand camera flashes in Pennsylvania by otherwise rational men wearing stovepipe hats has many different common names: Woodchuck, Groundhog, Whistling pig and Marmot. It’s actually the largest member of the squirrel family found in New England, related closely to western marmots.

The etymology of the name “woodchuck” is unrelated to "wood" or to "chucking." The name stems from its Algonquian origins or possibly Cree Indian name: "Wu-chak".

Woodchucks spend the winter in “true hibernation" and not "winter torpor" practiced by bears, chipmunk and skunks which periodically awaken. Woodchucks' metabolic rates slow to near-death with a heartbeat of 4 to 5 beats per minute and body temperature as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

To listeners of a certain age, the pseudo-holiday conjures a popular movie of the same name.

More on Ground Hog Day from The Tobolowsky Files.

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Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
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