Fri February 1, 2013
Groundhog Day – All Over Again
This humble, sleepy animal annually thrust into the glare of a thousand camera flashes in Pennsylvania by otherwise rational men wearing stovepipe hats has many different common names: Woodchuck, Groundhog, Whistling pig and Marmot. It’s actually the largest member of the squirrel family found in New England, related closely to western marmots.
The etymology of the name “woodchuck” is unrelated to "wood" or to "chucking." The name stems from its Algonquian origins or possibly Cree Indian name: "Wu-chak".
Woodchucks spend the winter in “true hibernation" and not "winter torpor" practiced by bears, chipmunk and skunks which periodically awaken. Woodchucks' metabolic rates slow to near-death with a heartbeat of 4 to 5 beats per minute and body temperature as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
To listeners of a certain age, the pseudo-holiday conjures a popular movie of the same name.