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February 4, 2018
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

This was one of those weeks that Monday morning news column deadline came too quickly. Throw in a dentist visit and my news column needed to be recycled from a previous one. This one was from 2007 but the info has all stayed the same. The timing of your newspaper publishing means you are likely reading this on Groundhog Day or the day after.

Groundhogs (or maybe you call them woodchucks or my personal favorite - whistlepigs) are the appropriate subject for this news column with Groundhog Day happening on February 2. I think it is pretty special to have a day named after you. Not a lot of wildlife can claim that. There isn't a Canada Goose Day. Or a Cottontail Rabbit Day, or even a Take a Bull snake To Lunch Day. What's so special about groundhogs? A lot of things!

Groundhogs are generally dark brown in color but like gorillas can get silvery backed in older mature individuals. They can weigh up to 14 pounds. They are true hibernators. By October each year, groundhogs have prepared for winter. They started by eating and eating and eating. Laying in a thick layer of body fat. All of that fat will be the source of nourishment for that long winter ahead. And they have made sure that their homes (or dens) are in order, as well. If we could travel down with them into the den, we would first go down a 10 to 45 foot long tunnel leading to a nest chamber lined with plant material used as bedding and as food. The den can also have as many as five entrances. Have you ever seen the entrance to a groundhog den? There is a huge amount of dirt outside of the hole. I'm told they can move as much as 700 pounds of dirt in the constructing of that home.

Other species of animals often use old groundhog dens as their homes rabbits, skunks, and opossums to name a few. Shortly before hibernation begins, groundhogs will "wall off" the entrance to this nest chamber with dirt. Around here, hibernation generally begins by the end of October or early November. Hibernation is an amazing thing. The groundhog's breathing slows down way down along with its heart rate. And its body temperature drops to as low as 43 degrees Fahrenheit! During this period, even if the animal is warmed up, it requires several hours to "wake up."

So how did Groundhog Day come about? Research has shown that for some reason, often in early February, groundhogs will become active and feed on the stored plant materials in the nest chamber. They may even come to the surface to look around. And the rest as they say is history.



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