In March of 2003, a woodchuck (groundhog) appeared in the yard. We named her Wilhelmina. Ignorant, but curious, about this animal I began photographing her and then her seven babies (chucklings), see 2003 photos. Eventually the mate of Wilhelmina was identified and named Gregory.
By late 2004, I decided still photography was inadequate in capturing the activities of these interesting marmots and the first of an eventual four camcorders was purchased. Wilhelmina had nine chucklings in 2005. As the chucklings became more active, some might be in the back yard, around the barn, rock garden and shed, while others found our front yard and deck a preferred area for a variety of activities including eating, sleeping, playing, climbing trees, and doing sentry duty. (See Link to You Tube videos) The project expanded to include other mammals, birds and insects that shared the woodchuck’s territory. Photography and filming are done through our windows.
Over the years, Wilhelmina has had six litters with two of her three mates, Gregory and Woodrow. She had no offspring with her third and final mate, George. 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 life span of a wild woodchuck vary from one to six years, or ten years in captivity. 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 remains our female in 2016 with Raggedy as her mate (see 2016 photos). Raggedy was suspected to be a male in 2015. It may be that he was a second mate to Heidi in 2015.
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.
Numerous myths and stories have circulated 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 has been stated that upright playfighting of young woodchucks is virtually unknown. Chasing and fighting are both 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 has also been reported that woodchucks do not drink, obtaining liquids from the juices of plants. Our observations tell a different story. More about that behavior…