On Feb. 2 Punxsutawney Phil (in Pennsylvania) and General Beauregard Lee (from the Yellow River Game Ranch in Stone Mountain, Georgia) will make headlines as they “predict” our weather for the next six weeks. The legend is that if the groundhog emerges from his shelter on February 2 and sees his shadow he will be frightened by his shadow and return to his shelter and winter weather will continue for six weeks. But – if he doesn’t see his shadow, then spring is just around the corner.
Groundhog Fun Facts (from the www.visitpa.com Groundhog Day Press Kit)
- The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long.
- Groundhogs are covered with coarse grayish hairs (fur) tipped with brown or sometimes dull red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are surprisingly quick. Their jaws are exceptionally strong.
- A groundhog's diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves.
- A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they begin courting.
- Insects do not bother groundhogs and germs pretty much leave them alone. They are resistant to the plagues that periodically wipe out large numbers of wild animals. One reason for this is their cleanliness.
- Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is actually a deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops.
- Young groundhogs are usually born in mid-April or May, and by July they are able to go out on their own. The size of the litter is four to nine. A baby groundhog is called a kit or a cub.
- A groundhog's life span is normally six to eight years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him seven more years of life
Another way we can “celebrate” Groundhog Day is to use it as an opportunity to think about the interaction we have with our wildlife friends in our own communities. In many suburban neighborhoods, coyotes, foxes, bears and other animals previously seen only in the middle of wild terrain are being seen more and more frequently. We must remember that they we have encroached on their territory and displaced them with our subdivisions and shopping centers and they see us as intruders in their “home.” Living and interacting with wildlife requires us to use common sense as we seek to protect ourselves and our domestic animals as well as respect the space of the native wildlife.