The male woodchuck arrived in the fall of 2009 from Walden’s Puddle Rehabilitation Center in Joelton, TN. He suffered neurological damage which affects his balance. He made his classroom debut early spring of 2010 following hibernation. He enjoys a diet of mixed fruits and vegetables, a variety of leafy greens, and nuts six days a week.
Found mainly in lowland areas. As a result of deforestation and maintenance of the land through cultivation, the woodchuck has thrived and multiplied. Typical woodchuck habitat includes rolling farmland interspersed with grassy pastures, small woodlots, and brushy fence lines. Woodchucks especially prefer forest edges and openings though they are never far from cover, and they are partial to loam and sandy loam soils for burrowing. They have been found in a variety of forest types, including spruce and jack pine and cutover hardwoods.
Length 16-26 inches
Tail 6 inches
The woodchuck is the largest sciurid (squirrel family) in its geographic range. It has a heavy, chunky body with relatively short but powerful legs well adapted for digging. Males are slightly larger than females. The dark-colored, bushy tail is about one-fourth as long as the total body length, much shorter in comparison to other squirrels. Woodchuck heads are broad and flat. They have dense, woolly underfur with longer, less dense guard hair. These guard hairs are banded with alternating dark and light coloring (bands usually yellowish to reddish brown, hairs tipped with white), giving this mammal a frosted appearance. Ears are small, low and rounded atop a black-colored head with small black eyes. There is one annual molt from late May to September, which begins at the tail and progresses forward. The feet are black and slightly flattened. The hind foot has five well-developed digits. The rudimentary first digit of the forelimb is covered by a flat nail. All other digits terminate in curved claws that are useful in digging.
Woodchuck incisors are ever-growing and heavily constructed with the anterior faces ivory or yellowish ivory in color, lacking the dark yellow pigmentation of other rodents. If incisors are not worn down properly by chewing, they may continue to grow with often fatal results. The woodchuck also possesses three nipple-like anal glands, which secrete a musky odor.
When alarmed, a woodchuck gives a loud, shrill whistle. Teeth grinding and chattering are common when woodchucks are cornered. Woodchucks have also been heard to bark, squeal, and whistle when fighting with other woodchucks.
Varied, mainly herbivorous diet. Most commonly they eat wild grasses, other vegetation, and fruits/berries. They have also been known to eat nuts, grubs, insects, snails, and other small mammals.
Woodchucks usually breed in their second year, although some breed during their first year. Breeding season is in the early spring between early March and mid April just after hibernation. Average gestation is 31 days during which time the male and female remain in the den together. As birth approaches, the male leaves the den. They have 1 litter of 2-6 babies per year. The young are born in May and at birth are naked, pink, wrinkled, and blind and helpless. The young are weaned at 5-6 weeks and begin dispersing and forming their own dens.
2-6 years in the wild; up to 22 years in captivity
- Woodchucks are true hibernators, relying solely on body fat for winter survival. Hibernation takes place in a side chamber along one of the underground corridors of the burrow system. This prolonged torpor reduces various metabolic processes- heartbeat slows (from more than 100 per minute to as few as 15), body temperature drops from about 35 degrees C to 8 degrees C, and respiration also decreases. While hibernating, the woodchuck rolls itself into a ball and tucks its head between its hind legs. Hibernation generally begins in October and ends in March or April (not on February 2). Woodchucks somehow seem to know when to wake up, controlled by a circa-annual clock, but actual emergence depends on the daily temperature.
- Other names for a woodchuck include groundhog, land beaver and whistle pig.
- Dens are situated in well-drained locations. With strong, clawed, forelimbs and large teeth, woodchucks can easily construct burrows with as many as five entrances. A plunge hole is often near the major den entrance and may have a vertical drop of as much as 2 ft to a main tunnel. There can be a bump near the entrance which helps water pool up and not enter the tunnels. These dens can be up to 45 ft long, extending as far underground as 5 ft. Dens in open areas are used in the summer, and those under stumps, at the edge of rock ledges, and near other protection are generally occupied during the winter hibernation. Dens are always kept clean and well padded. There are separate areas for sleeping, lounging and eliminating. Occupied dens can be recognized by a pile of fresh earth at the entrance.