By Freddy Moyano
NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – Groundhog Day is just around the corner.
Early spring? Six more weeks of winter?
Thousands anxiously wait for the fuzzy rodent meteorologist’s signal telling them what kind of weather to expect in the coming weeks.
The popular weather folklore, not to be confused with the 1993 Bill Murray film, derives from Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on Feb. 2 sees its shadow, it will return to its den and winter will persist for six more weeks.
If it doesn’t see its shadow, spring will arrive early.
Though the tradition remains popular, studies have found no correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the subsequent arrival of spring-like weather.
Marmota monax (scientific name)
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, typically weigh 12 to 15 pounds and live six to eight years.
Contrary to initial belief, these mammals spend the majority of their time hiding from the world, either underground or under bushy canopies in densely-wooded areas.
Much like foxes do, when it comes to picking den locations as close to humans as possible to avoid being in the food chain of coyotes, groundhogs can be seen near populated areas, if the right place and right time happen to align.
However, they are quick at running for bush cover, if they come in contact with the classic joggers or nature wanderers.
They are creatures of habit, and there is no myth in the “hog” part of their name.
These rodents go inside their underground burrows to hibernate between October and February – mainly due to lack of leafy grounds over the winter.
They constantly eat grass and various stems they come across while setting surveillance for potential predators – a dire need to fatten up to get ready for the cold winter ahead.
Their constant, gluttony-like behavior on grassy grounds is evident.
If one looks closely at hibernation, with bears practicing it as ceremoniously as these rodents do, it is easy to find more than one thing in common between bears and groundhogs.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, groundhogs are also known as mouse bears because of the way they sit.
Another fascinating fact regarding these rodents is that they lose no more than 25% of their body weight during their 150-day sabbatical season underground.
Bears, on the contrary, trim about 40% of their weight.
According to the National Wildlife Federation, the heartrate of a hibernating woodchuck slows from about 80 breaths per minute to five during hibernation.
Much more impressive is their ability to go from 16 breaths per minute to about 2, compared to grizzly bears, which go from 84 beats per minute to about 19.
It’s safe to say groundhogs have a very efficient metabolism.
What remains unclear yet, is whether or not our chubby, furry friend out in Pennsylvania will see its shadow on Feb. 2.
If it doesn’t, just like the editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper concluded in 1886, we will have an early spring.
If not, well, get ready for six more weeks of winter.
Freddy Moyano, an award-winning wildlife filmmaker based in Green Bay, is a columnist for The Press Times. More of his work can be found on instagram.com/freddymoyanoofficial.