Some people know them as groundhogs, others know them as woodchucks, and a few might know them as Marmota monax; they're a common pest across North America, and they're known by a whole host of other names, depending on where you are in the world. These include thickwood badger, wood-shock, whistlepig, Canada marmot, and many more.
An adult groundhog can weigh up to 15 pounds, with an average weight of around 10 pounds. As with many other species, males are bigger than females, and they both have weights that fluctuate throughout the year, because of a winter hibernation period.
Mostly red and brown in color, you may find that they are marked with flecks of whiter and darker shades, and they often have darker ears, darker paws, and darker snouts.
In captivity, with ideal conditions, the humble groundhog can live for 6 or 7 years, with some even going to 10-14 years and longer, but they rarely make it past 2 or 3 years in the wild. Many of the groundhogs predators are surprise-kill predators, including foxes and coyotes, which means that the groundhog doesn't really have a chance — or the time — to defend itself when attacked.
Groundhogs usually wait until their second year of age before mating, but a few of them will star the process during the first year. The spring is when males and females come together, usually between February and April, and the female is pregnant for around 4 weeks. During that time, the male will stay with the female, but only until the female is due to give birth.
When she does, she'll have between 2 and 6 groundhog youngsters, often called chucklings, kits, or pups, and she'll take care of them throughout the rest of spring, summer, and into the fall. Occasionally, the father will come back to assist, but not always. By the time fall is in full season, most of the groundhog chucklings will have left the nest to start their own lives.
Groundhogs don't often stray far from a burrow, so if you see a groundhog in your back yard, there's a chance that the burrow is going to be not far from it. These burrows are often occupied by just the one groundhog, but there are times when several adults of both genders will come together to live in the same burrow.
Burrows are created below ground, containing many tunnel systems and chambers, with more than one entrance point. There is usually one main entrance point plus a bunch of smaller, lesser used entrance points for backup, and the tunnels themselves can extend for a great distance under your feet. Studies have shown some that 3-5 feet below ground, extending for 10, 15, 20+ feet horizontally.
Burrow entrance points are almost always situated around shrubbery, a wall, fallen trees, sidewalks, rock piles, and similar. These provide some shelter and protection.
Groundhogs are herbivores, eating mostly plant-based foods, but it's not unknown for the animal to accidentally ingest a bug or two as it goes about its merry little way.
They love to munch their way through garden plots and vegetable patches, and they're quite well-known for grabbing a fruit, taking a bite, discarding it, and then grabbing a new one — carrots, corn, lettuce, apples, berries, and many others. This is frustrating as it means that an entire plant's worth of fruit will be ruined, rather than just one or two offerings.
They seem to have a particular love for alfalfa and clovers as well as long grasses, other leafy plants, and dandelions. Occasionally, when plant-based food is hard to come by, groundhogs will eat some insects by choice.
It is the crop damage that poses the biggest problem when groundhogs live on your property. They'll generally only stick around if you have some kind of food to offer them, and removing the food will mean removing an entire vegetable plot (perhaps) from it.
As well as destroying entire gardens, allotments, and even farms of crops, groundhogs can also cause damage by burrowing and digging underground. Large tunnel systems can make the above-ground surface unstable, and with prolonged tunneling and moving around of earth, even buildings can become structurally unstable.
Groundhogs can often be deterred using fencing, and for extra protection an underground panel can be added to stop them from being able to burrow right down, under, and them up the other side, into your property.
If specific areas are being hit, such as garden or vegetable plots, you can implement specific forms of protection. A cage structure made from mesh wire pulled over a wooden frame can be effective at keeping your crops safe from the prying, grabbing arms or groundhogs and other animals, and you could also protect the area from underground wanders by incorporating rough gravel, rocks, and stones into the earth. These, combined with heavy, dry and well-packed earth, can make life difficult for underground animals to dig and move around.
Professionals often remove groundhogs using physical live cage trapping and removal, often releasing the animal into a new location where it cannot pose problems (and it is legally permitted, and safe). These are not easy animals to deter once they've made your home their own, so prevention is definitely better than cure, but an experienced trapper and removal expert will have an easy time of figuring out the best place to put traps, as well as the best baits to use for them.
1 - People believe that groundhogs are related to bears, badgers, and even dogs — but they're actually related to the squirrel family.
2 - Legend has it, on February 2nd, the humble groundhog will come out of hibernation, take a look around, and then decide whether or not winter is over. Apparently, according to myths, if the groundhog sees its own shadow, it knows that there is 6 weeks of winter to come, so will go back to sleep until spring has really sprung.
3 - Groundhogs have bathrooms in their houses. By that we mean: they build bathroom chambers, specifically for defecations, in their underground burrows. They actually have similar rooms to humans — a larder for storing dead earthworms, a bedroom for sleeping, a bathroom for toilet time, and even chambers for socializing.