Whistle-pig, woodchuck, marmot, land beaver, groundhog.
These are all handles for the same rotund rodent. They are derived from skills like its whistle to signal alarm or allure and a voracious vegetarian appetite. The largest member of the squirrel family even has its own holiday.
Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2. Legend has it that if a groundhog (Marmota monax) takes a break from hibernating on this day and sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter will be with us.
As the thermometer drops across its range in North America, the groundhog burrows in for a deep sleep. It shows an unusual tolerance for the cold with very low body temperatures that can plunge to about 37° F according to the Canadian Journal of Medical Sciences. When waking up to check the weather for us, well, maybe it’s is a little woozy. According to Stormfax Almanac, the groundhog gets it right about 39% of the time.
Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous forecasting groundhog, hails from Pennsylvania where Phil and his forebearers have made their prophecies for the remainder of the frosty season. I met what could be Phil’s cousin (above) near the Delaware Water Gap in the same state. The days were warmer — as was the groundhog’s disposition. It strolled by me nipping gently at the lush carpet of summer grass.