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Common Name: Woodchuck
Scientific Name: Marmata monax
Description and general information

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, or whistlepig, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae. It is the largest member of this family, which also includes squirrels. Both sexes are similar in appearance, but the male is slightly larger, weighing an average of 5 to 10 pounds, while the female weighs an average of 4 to 9 pounds. The total length of the head and body averages 16 to 20 inches. The tail is usually 4 to 7 inches long. Woodchucks have white or yellowish-white, chisel like incisor teeth. Their eyes, ears and nose are located toward the top of the head, which allows them to remain concealed in their burrow while they check for danger over the edge. Although they are slow runners, woodchucks are alert and scurry quickly to their burrows when they sense danger.
Groundhogs are well adapted for digging, having short, powerful limbs with curved, thick claws. Suited to their temperate habitat, groundhogs possess two coats of fur: a dense gray undercoat and a longer coat of banded guard hairs that give the groundhog its distinctive appearance.
When a woodchuck is alarmed, it will give off a sharp whistle before running to its burrow. In the wild, woodchucks can live up to six years, with two or three being the average


The woodchuck is widely distributed in North America and are common in the eastern and central US, being found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Georgia.
 Woodchucks prefer open farmland and the  wooded areas surrounding open land. Their burrows are commonly located in fields and pastures or along fences, roadsides, or building foundations. Woodchuck burrows are identified by the large mound of excavated dirt at the main entrance.

Woodchucks dig large burrows, often moving up to 35 cubic feet of soil in the process. Burrows can be up to 5 feet deep and up to 30 feet long. The burrow is used for safety, protection from bad weather, hibernating, sleeping, and raising offspring. Most burrows consist of 2 or more chambers, including a sleeping chamber lined with grasses, and an excrement chamber. The sleeping, or nest chamber, is usually about 16 inches wide and 14 inches high. There will always be at least 2 openings to a burrow: the main entrance and the other a spy hole.
Old woodchuck burrows are sometimes used as shelter by other animals including red foxes, opossums, cottontail rabbits, skunks and snakes.

The diagram above shows a typical woodchuck burrow. The diagram is taken from a paper written by Rene Bollengier, retired Assistant Director, USDA-APHIS

Woodchucks prefer to feed in the early morning and evening hours. Mostly herbivores, groundhogs eat primarily wild grasses and other vegetation, including berries, plantain, sassafras, sumac, flowering dogwood, black cherry and honeysuckle, and agricultural crops when they can. Clover, alfalfa, dandelion and coltsfoot are among preferred woodchuck foods. They have occasionally been noted sitting up eating nuts such as hickory or acorn, but unlike squirrels, they do not bury them for future use.

Young woodchuck enjoys a carrot on release day.


Groundhogs are one of the few species that enter into true hibernation. The hibernation burrow is dug below the frost line, in a wooded or bush covered area. This allows it to remain at an even temperature well above freezing during the winter. In most ranges, groundhogs will hibernate form October to March or April. They are at their maximum weight shortly before hibernation to allow them to survive the winter. Woodchucks are able to slow their breathing down to one breath a minute and their heartbeats to four beats a minute during the winter months. They can also lower their body temperature. They will emerge from hibernation in the spring with just enough body fat left to enable them to survive until plant life becomes abundant again.
Woodchuck caught eating a tortilla chip.


Usually woodchucks breed in their second year, but a small portion may breed in their first. They usually breed in March and April. A single litter of two to six will be born in April or May after a gestational period of about 32 days. The young are born blind and hairless. Groundhog mothers will introduce their babies to the wild once they are furred and their eyes are open. The babies will be weaned by late June or early July and soon after that will strike out on their own. Young chucks will often occupy old burrows abandoned by other woodchucks.

Because of their large size, woodchucks do not have many predators. If killed, it is usually while they are young. Predators include fox, hawks, raccoons, dogs and man. Many are also killed by cars.
Outside the burrow, woodchucks are alert and it is common to see one nearly motionless, standing erect on their hind feet looking for danger. When alarmed, they use a high pitched whistle to warn of danger. They may also squeal when fighting or caught by a predator. They also make low barks and grind their teeth. The hair on their tails stand straight up when they are frightened.
Groundhogs are also good swimmers and are capable of climbing trees to escape predators or to view the terrain. They prefer to retreat to their dens to avoid danger, but if the burrow is invaded, the woodchuck will defend itself ferociously with its front claws and large incisors.
Young woodchuck in danger-sensing mode at wildlife center.

Young chuck clowning around at the rehab center.