Groundhogs, or woodchucks, are large rodents known for their burrowing habits and destructive behavior. Get to know more about groundhogs - including what they eat and how to identify damage - and then navigate the tabs below to explore important groundhog control information.
General Groundhog Facts
Scientific Name: Marmota monax
Average Size: 20" long with 6-7" tail, 6-12 lbs.
Average Lifespan in the Wild: 3-6 years
Identifying Features: brown fur; round body with a small bushy tail; short, strong legs with curved claws for burrowing; small, round eyes and ears located on the top of a flat heat; two long, ever-growing incisors.
Groundhog Geography and Habitat
Groundhogs are found in the majority of central and eastern United States, as well as in parts of Alaska and Canada.
Known as an "edge" species, groundhogs prefer transitional areas where forest or woodland meets a well-vegetated open field or meadow. Groundhogs spend most of their time underground in complex burrow systems, which they dig in dry, well-drained soil. Most of the time groundhogs dig their burrows in areas with nearby cover such as fencerows, hedgerows, beside structures, home foundations or trees.
Groundhogs eat approximately 1/3 of their weight in vegetation each day. Although they are considered herbivores, they sometimes eat insects (less than 1% of the time). In the summer and fall groundhogs increase their consumption to accumulate fat reserves, which they use to survive through their winter hibernation period.
Some favorite foods include:
Activity: Groundhogs are diurnal (active during the day) from spring to fall. Most activity occurs during the early morning and early evening hours, at which groundhogs emerge from their burrows to gather food.
Hibernation: Groundhogs are true hibernators, entering a deep sleep in October and emerging in early spring. During hibernation, a groundhog's temperature drops from 99° F to 40° F, and its heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to 5. During this time, groundhogs survive on the fat reserves that they accumulate from their hefty summer and fall diets.
Reproduction: Mating season begins in early spring, once groundhogs emerge from hibernation. Mothers give birth to 2-4 kits, and these baby woodchucks remain with the mother for 2 months before becoming independent.
Burrowing: With their long, sharp claws, groundhogs dig complex multi-chamber burrows that they use for hoarding food, nesting and hibernating.
Socialization: Groundhogs are mostly solitary animals, only seeking out other groundhogs to mate. However as a species, they work to protect each other. For example, they communicate with one another using high-pitched shrills to warn each other of approaching threats.
Identify Groundhog Damage
Groundhog burrowing can pose a serious threat to agricultural and residential developments, which is why it's important to identify groundhog damage early.
Some signs of damage include:
- 1/4-3/4" wide teeth marks on wood, plantings, and the lower branches of trees
- mounds of soil outside a burrow entrance
- deep holes in the ground or lawn
- damaged or hollowed out crops
- weakened building foundation (a sign of an intruding burrow)
- chewed tubing, wires or irrigation systems
- groundhog tracks: five toes on the front foot and four on the back; generally profound claw markings
Groundhogs are the largest species in the squirrel family.
Other names for groundhogs include woodchucks, whistle-pigs and land-beavers.
Groundhogs are skilled climbers and swimmers, which helps them to escape less-skilled predators.
Groundhog burrows are so complex that each has its own "bathroom" chamber.
Groundhog burrows are known to have been responsible for uncovering a historic village in central Ohio - now a famous archeological site.