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Discover Nature: Groundhogs

Groundhogs begin to emerge from winter hibernation in early February. Watch for their above-ground activity during daylight hours as they begin to breed, now through March.

This week in nature, keep an eye out for groundhogs. Also known as woodchucks, or whistle pigs, these rodents in the squirrel family are active during daylight hours, and are breeding now.



With short, powerful legs and a medium-long, bushy tail, these mammals can grow to more than two-feet long, and weigh as much as 14 pounds. 


Groundhogs dig tunnels leading to a nest chamber, three to six feet underground. They hibernate from October until February when they emerge and begin breeding. 


In late March, a litter of two to nine young are born naked, blind, and helpless. Their eyes won’t open for four weeks, but by mid-summer they’ll start setting out on their own. 


Groundhogs help to mix and aerate soil, and are important homebuilders for other animals who use their burrows for dens, such as foxes, skunks, weasels, opossums, and rabbits. 


Each year, on Groundhog Day, legend has it, if one particularly famous groundhog sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. No shadow means an early spring. 


Learn more about groundhogs and other similar species such as muskrats, beavers, and nutria, with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide


Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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