In March of 2003, a woodchuck (groundhog) appeared in our yard. We named her Wilhelmina. Ignorant, but curious, about this animal I began photographing her and then her seven babies (chucklings), see PHOTO GALLERY. Eventually, the mate of Wilhelmina was identified and named Gregory. His teeth were unmistakable!
By late 2004, it was clear that photographs weren’t enough to capture the activities of these intriguing marmots. We purchased our first camcorder to record the action. Wilhelmina had nine chucklings in 2005. Groundhog babies are fun, but not always easy, to watch. Some might be in the backyard around the barn or shed, in the woods or Rock Garden. Others found our front yard and deck a preferred area for a variety of activities. We watched them as they ate, slept, played, climbed trees, and did sentry duty. (See Link to YouTube videos) We also observed other other mammals, birds, and insects that shared the woodchuck’s territory.
Over the years, Wilhelmina has had six litters with two of her three mates, Gregory and Woodrow. Woodchucks usually breed at two years old. Based upon the assumption that she was two years old in 2003, we estimate that Wilhelmina was about ten years old when last seen in 2011. Reports of the lifespan of wild woodchucks vary from one to six years.
2012 marked a new beginning with a female we have named Trudy. She had seven offspring. In 2015 our mated pair, Heidi and Luke, were woodchuck parents of seven (see 2015 photos). Heidi remained our female in 2016 with Raggedy as her mate (see 2016 photos). The 2017 season began with five groundhogs, all from 2016, emerging from hibernation. It was an unusual and confusing groundhog season! (see 2017 photos and review)
The woodchuck is called by other names including groundhog, whistle pig, and Marmota monax. Monax is an American Indian name meaning “the digger”. A groundhog contributes to soil improvement by bringing subsoil to the surface and exposing it to weathering action. Groundhogs have aided humans in the understanding of human disease and their hibernating abilities are of significant research interest in the space and medical industries. The groundhog is the only animal we have set aside a special day for on our calendar.
Many myths and stories have been told about woodchucks. For example, in 1883, the legislature of one state passed a bill authorizing a bounty of 10 cents for every woodchuck killed in the state. In part, they stated “The Woodchuck is not only a nuisance, but a bore. It burrows beneath the soil and then chuckles to see a mowing machine, man and all, slump into one of these holes and disappear.” It’s been stated that upright playfighting of young woodchucks is nearly unknown. Chasing and fighting are said to be very rare among woodchucks, only observed between adult females.
Numerous publications have reported that the male woodchuck has no part in the raising of or caring for the young. It’s also been reported that woodchucks don’t drink, instead getting their liquids from the juices of plants. Our observations tell a different story. Our goal is to sort out myth from reality. To that end, we take photographs and video footage through our windows. We also use trail cameras in and outside our barn. More about that behavior…
Schoonmaker, WJ, Terres, JK, ed. The World of the Woodchuck, Philadelphia & New York, Living World Books, 1966
Barash, David P., Marmots: Social Behavior and Ecology, Stanford University Press, 1989