5. Physical Description
The Groundhog (scientific name Marmota monax) belongs to the Rodent Order, in the Family Sciuridae. It is among the largest, and best known, animal diggers of this world, and is known by several different common names. These include the "whistle pig", the "woodchuck", and the "land beaver". Groundhogs produce a high pitched whistle, and have curved spines, short, yet sturdy, limbs, and well defined claws great for digging. The typical adult length of this marmot can reach about 26 inches, with a weight of roughly 9 pounds. Compared to other relatives such as squirrels and chipmunks, Groundhogs are far more robust in size. They have double layers of fur that keep them both warm and waterproof, helping them to cope with the cold season and wick away moisture whenever they have been in the water.
Groundhogs are not well loved among farmers and gardeners. This is simply because they favor feasting on the plant crops, especially fruits and vegetables, commonly grown by humans. They are predominantly herbivores, feeding on the leaves, stems, and buds of such plants as soybeans, alfalfa, carrots, apples, corn, berries, cabbages, and clovers. Just before winter, these animals will eat just about any vegetation they can get their claws, and as much of it as they can, in order to store as much fat as possible for when they hibernate. Groundhogs are expert thieves as well, able to cleverly avoid traps set for them by those people who have grown tired of losing their best leafy vegetables, and those having to fix the damages inflicted by these skilled tunnel builders in and underneath their yards.
3. Habitat and Range
Large populations of Groundhogs are to be found along the streams, woodlands, and countryside of North America, especially in the Central and Northeast regions of the United States. They sleep in burrows during the night, and are often seen climbing trees or swimming in bodies of water during the day when they are not foraging for food. They are protected in such national parks as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee and North Carolina border, and in recent years have shown an increase in their numbers. Though they are hunted, their adaptability and high birth rates have left them classified as a species of "Least Concern" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, meaning they are considered stable in terms of population. Unfortunately, these animals are considered pests or nuisances by many people, a disdain that reaches such an extent that there is a thriving industry in parts of the U.S. dedicated solely to the capture and extermination of Groundhogs.
Groundhogs are aggressive in nature, which they exhibit with their high pitched whistles and the use of their curved claws and rather sharp incisors. These animals are also antagonistic towards their own kind, often harming others to protect their burrows, their food sources, and just about anything they feel is being threatened. When not eating, they are perpetually on their toes looking around scanning their native environments, and will rarely be found lazily lounging about. Groundhogs prefer to live solitary lives, as their tolerance for other organisms, for both animals of all kinds (including their own) and humans, is remarkably low. They are, however, excellent diggers and builders, and, if not for their destructive skills being used to wreak havoc on gardens and farms, they could give many human engineers and architects runs for their money. They sleep for long periods of time, especially during the winter, and will only reemerge from their burrows when looking for mates when they are ready to reproduce.
Groundhog males will mate with multiple females, even going so far as to establish a territory with several partners residing in different burrows. In fact, the only reason that a Groundhog male will come out of hibernation early is to look for females to mate with, going from one burrow to another in search of suitable partners. Once they’re done with this task, they go on back to sleep until March comes around, when its officially time to start breeding and creating a few young ones. When successful, Groundhogs' gestation periods span roughly one month of time, and culminate in the birth of two to six young ones, lacking both vision and fur. These will be fed by their mothers' milk at first, and sheltered within their mothers' burrows until they are able to see and have grown a sufficient amount of fur.