The reputed weather predictor
Poor groundhogs, they get respect only once a year. Perhaps having unique habits and three names dilutes consideration. This reputed weather predictor does get plenty of attention on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day.
Folklore says if the sun shines that day and a groundhog sees its shadow, then six more winter weeks follow. But no shadow, get the garden tiller out.
Spotting one on Groundhog Day is as uncertain as Missouri weather. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), they will snooze in an underground den below the frost line if the weather is icy. Although, a sunny warmup might wake them from hibernation for a look around.
Except for Punxsutawney Phil, star of the Bill Murray movie, groundhogs don’t get much attention. They’re not as commonly seen as their tree-dwelling rodent cousins, the squirrels, and their relatives the tree-dropping beavers. They will climb a tree for a ripe apple or pawpaw. But the woodchuck doesn’t chuck wood. Their talent is digging, which does draw attention when they burrow near gardens or under foundations. Fresh dirt beside a den hole the size of a bowling ball draws scrutiny.
Luckily for people annoyed by their digging talents, groundhogs are easily trapped in cage traps and removed. A bit of cantaloupe or any tasty fruit or vegetable will entice them in. Groundhogs are vegetarians dining on succulent grasses, forbs, fruits, and flowers. They are anxious on warm winter days for spring and something to eat, plus, their mating season begins soon after they emerge from hibernation.
Groundhogs in the wild dig dens under rocks, tree roots, and embankments. Many mammals and other types of wildlife use their abandoned dens as homes. Groundhogs are a low-slung critter with a short, flat tail. All the better for digging and moving quickly in and out of burrows.
People usually see them grazing low to the ground or standing upright on their hind legs to watch for danger. They are prey for larger carnivores. Their whistlepig name is earned because they emit a loud, shrill whistle if startled. Groundhogs pose no threats to people or pets but will defend themselves if cornered.
Since the NFL-football-sized furbearers are vegetarians, the meat can be tasty, said James Worley, outdoorsman and noted wild game chef from Kansas City.
“It’s like the thigh meat on a turkey in texture,” Worley said. “The taste is mild, it’s fairly light colored.”
Groundhogs may only be taken for fur or meat from May 9 to Dec. 15 during 2022 in Missouri, though nuisance animals can be removed at any time.
For more information about the groundhog-woodchuck-whistlepig, visit MDC’s website at short.mdc.mo.gov/4Zr.
If you forget about groundhogs after Feb. 2, fear not. Vance Randolph, Ozark folklorist, wrote that oldtimers swore that Feb. 14 is the best groundhog weather prediction day. Either way, groundhogs know they’re halfway, more or less, through winter.