Woodchucks hibernate for nearly half of every year, and during those intervals the heartbeat slows from 80 beats per minute to only four or five, and body temperature drops more than 60 degrees to about 38 degrees.
This pudgy creature, also known as a groundhog, does not appear above ground on its official day, Feb. 2. That idea is a delightful hoax. Internal clocks awaken them in March.
The woodchuck is the largest member of the squirrel family. It can reach a weight of 10 pounds as an adult and measures close to 2 feet. It feeds primarily on green vegetation and other plant materials, although it also eats insects, mice and other small animals at times. A woodchuck might consume as much as a pound of food per day.
Found throughout Minnesota, woodchucks prefer edges of forests and hilly areas where they dig extensive burrow systems. To the dismay of gardeners and farmers, such plant food as clover, alfalfa, peas, beans, corn, melons and apples are some of the groundhog’s favorite foods. However, woodchucks also benefit the wildlife community (and the farmer) by constructing burrows that serve as homes for animals that are important in controlling insect pests and small rodent populations. The tunnels also permit rain water to enter the ground easily.
Jim Gilbert’s observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.