Posts Tagged ‘woodchuck’

dead groundhog zoom

The lawn is mowed and manicured. The only grass that rises from the soil is that lush green kind that the herbivores crave.

For over twenty years, the lawn has been mowed and the soil has brought forth this bounty. And the highways churn away on both sides of the land, and the only predators that stalk its grounds are the black feral cats that slink around property’s edge.

It is a paradise for the Monax. They are a grass-eating people who find such grounds beyond perfection. All day, they rise from the old huts in the back and undulate their fat forms on the lawn. Their rodent teeth crop at the grass. The sun shines upon their forms, and in winter, when the time of hibernation comes, they sleep soundly through the snow squalls and hard freezes, and in spring, they trundle out with their little ones.

And for these two decades, they have raise their young in this verdant land of plenty.

But one day, a change came wafting in on the late spring breezes. A good, hard rain had fallen, and the evening sun was casting its glow upon the green grass.

Any of the Monax worth their salt as grass croppers decided to wander out. This was the time to graze and grow some fat on that thick, green grass.

A soft breeze was in the air. Wind chimes some yards distant were clanging about.  The cars on the highway were motoring on and on.

But in the air came the softest jingle, and the Monax didn’t know what to think of the sound. It was eerily soft, and then it would fall still. Then the sound would rise again, and the tempo would increase.

Then came the sound of running feet on the grassy ground, which matched the cadence of the jingle sound almost perfectly.

And then it came upon them, that running, whirring whiteness. It was a beast of prey, but one they had not seen before. And the Monax raced away on their stumpy legs and sowbellies.

They dived for their holes among the wood huts and along the edge of the woodland. They had never before experienced such terror before. After all, the Monax came to this land because there were no coyotes or foxes to molest them here, but now, their land had been taken over by the Great Running White Fox, who nearly hourly cast running sorties across the grounds.

But the message was not well-received among the Monax. Impetuous youth caused the young males to wander out onto the lawn in midday, testing their luck against the jingling and running whirs of death.

For nearly a week, this coterie of the young came to out into the mid-lawn, and several times, a day the Great Running White Fox was descend upon them, running hard and casting his fell jaws at at their fatty hides.

One day, a young male got the fright of his life when the beast of death ran him down, but the predator had never before killed such a creature and so was left filling the air with some wild barks while the Monax youth rose on its hindlegs and showed its teeth.

And that display was enough to make the Great Running White Fox back down.

But that would not stop the sorties, but it would not stop the bravado of youth either. It was as if both sides were unaware of what the other could do, and they were now testing the waters to see how far it all could go.

And not two days passed, when a young Monax heard the jingle, jingle and the running of feet, and decided not to run until the beast was upon him.

This time, the Great Running White Fox grabbed the young Monax and shook it violently in its jaws. On this foray, a yellow dog had come along for the sortie, but all she did was bark wildly at the Monax youth that stood to watch in horror as their comrade was shaken to death.

And so the first Monax in two decades had died at the jaws of a predator. In this case, it was a running dog, a cream and white whippet, a beast brought over from England and supremely adapted to the runs against the rabbit and the hare. The short legs of the Monax were no match for long legs of the dog.

From then on, the Monax knew to live in fear. They crept about the lawn only with great caution, for now they knew the real world of predation. They were prey, and the predator could come at any moment.

This is the way the Monax live where there are only forests and fields. The coyotes and the foxes and the farm dogs all take their toll upon the Monax. The .17 rifles take out the Monax as well.

It is only in these odd anomalies that we call “development” that predator-free paradises can exist, but they are anomalies that barely register in the history of life on this planet. Where there is vegetation, there are grazers and browsers, and where there are grazers and browsers, there are fanged beasts of prey to hunt them.

The introduction of the whippet to this artificial grassland made it oddly more wild  With a domesticated killer to run the domesticated landscape, there was a sort ecological balance provided to the waves of grass.

But it an ersatz ecology to an ersatz landscape. It is only made slightly more complete with the whippet’s running feet.





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yellow-bellied marmot

A yellow-bellied marmot can’t predict the weather. Its cousin, the groundhog, can’t either.

I have not written anything about this in a while, but those of you who live outside of North America need to know something:

Every Candlemas, local news stations across the Anglo-American world will be covering a bizarre ritual. At the local zoo or wildlife center, some people with super-thick gloves will be annoying the resident marmot this morning. In my part of the world, it will be French Creek Freddie, a groundhog, who will be roused from his deep hibernation. He will be taken out into the broad daylight.

And somehow, it will be determined if he saw his shadow or not, and if he sees his shadow, then we’re in for six more weeks of winter.

The big ritual happens at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and it is supposedly based upon an German custom of annoying a badger or hedgehog on Candlemas for the same purpose. Neither species is found in Pennsylvania, although wandering American badgers have occasionally turned up in Western New York and even West Virginia.

So they went with the local marmot species as a stand-in. The one in Punxsutawney is called Punxsutawney Phil. There is already a livestream set up for his prediction this morning.

In Montana, a yellow-bellied marmot named Bitterroot Bill. He’s not exactly the ground of Pennsylvania, but if the groundhog of Pennsylvania is a stand-in for a badger or hedgehog, shouldn’t a yellow-bellied marmot do just as well?

At least Van Island Violet, an endangered Vancouver marmot, will be left alone to sleep through her hibernation. Canadians, at least on the West Coast, are nicer to their local marmot than most of us are.

Indeed, this is about the only day that groundhogs get any truck with people in my area. Groundhogs are agricultural pests, and during the hot days of summer, they are frequently used as target practice by those hunters with itchy trigger fingers or those who are starting to doubt their marksmanship skills.

But if you ever see the Candlemas rodents when they are roused from their winter naps, they are quite grouchy. That’s why the handlers have to wear such thick gloves. I’ve never hibernated, but I can imagine that being roused from such a state is pretty traumatic.

I’ve always thought this is a bizarre custom for several reasons:

One is that I can’t imagine the groundhog is looking for its shadow when it’s hauled out into the light. I don’t even know that groundhogs even know what shadows are. The main thing these animals seem to be caring about is why they can’t be put back to bed.

The second is that, um, if an animal sees its shadow, that means the sun is out. If the sun is out, then that will melt the snow, and I would think that the sun shining would be a sign that winter is on its way out.

I suppose I’m thinking this stuff out too much.  It is, after all, just a regional folk custom that went viral long ago.

Most people don’t even know that today is Candlemas, because it’s not an Anglo-Protestant holiday at all.

In North America, it is Marmot Day.

The national news will let us know what ol’ Phil saw. Of course, he won’t be interviewed. There will just a proclamation read, and the news will report on his prediction. The local news affiliates across the country will report on the local marmots, and we will go on our merry way.

And then the real meteorologists will produce their forecasts. People will follow those a lot more closely than the rodent predictions.

And we’ll go back to our lives. The marmots will go back to sleep. When the grounhogs arise in spring, the guns will go off as soon as the find the vegetable patch.

But for one day, they are feted, even if they are too grouchy and dazed to realize it.

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Bobcat catches groundhog


I cannot believe these people reacted to the bobcat in this fashion.

I think we’re doomed.

People can’t even appreciate even unambiguously natural predation.

Maybe this is why the quality of nature programming has dipped significantly.

When I was a kid, I used to watch those films were big cats killed things.

And they were wicked awesome.

I guess predators are no longer politically correct, even if they have been a major force in both regulating prey species and driving evolutionary selection pressures.

Bobcats have to eat, too!

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From WHDH-TV (includes video).

A groundhog comes running at a dog and a family, and they think it’s there to play?


Groundhogs make a high pitched sound whenever they are agitated, so it would make sense that this rabid one would also use that vocalization.

My useless show-type golden once got into an altercation with a groundhog. It wasnot a rabid one, just a stupid slow one that allowed a stupid, slow dog to catch it.  It was quite hilarious to watch a groundhog beat up a golden retriever.

And then the field-line dog sailed in and killed it in five seconds.


In my part of the world, groundhogs are about the only animal that digs extensive burrows.

A few years ago, the groundhog population dropped. This was, of course, blamed on the coyotes.

If any animal population drops, the coyote is to blame.

There may have been some truth to it, because most of these groundhogs grew up in a world without much predation, except for dogs, which are notoriously bad at predation. A dog will have a hard time catching a groundhog if all it does is run it into into a burrow and then spends the next 45 minutes barking at the hole.

Coyotes use a different technique. A few smarter dogs also use it.

The coyote or dog just waits outside the entrance to the burrow and flattens its body against the ground. It allows the groundhog to come out. It lets it forage until it reaches a point where it cannot run back to the hole before the dog or coyote can overtake it. When it reaches that point, the dog or coyote pounces.

That technique may have been a bit of problem for our coyote-naive groundhogs.

However, that wasn’t the main worry.

The main worry was that dens would no longer be dug. Foxes and den-nesting raccoons would have no place to hide or raise their young. Cottontail rabbits would have no place to seek refuge during the coldest days of the winter. All of these animals rely upon the dens that groundhogs dig. Foxes can dig their own den, but the soil is so rocky in West Virginia that they’d rather just renovate a groundhog burrow.

Of course, natural selection has favored more coyote-wise groundhogs, and their numbers are stable.

The burrows are being dug.

And all is fine.

But I hope none of them get rabies.

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Today is the day of the groundhog.

That’s what I call Marmota monax.

Most Americans call this animal a woodchuck.

Other names for it are the “land-beaver” (LOL) and the whistle-pig (because they do whistle as an alarm call).

It is the most common marmot species in North America. Its range extends from Alaska to Alabama, and it is the only species of marmot in the eastern US and Canada.

Tomorrow is their day, because in the US and Canada, the hibernating groundhogs will be woken from their slumber. These animals are true hibernators, and although they do wake up during February, even captive woodchucks aren’t moving around this early in the month.

The animals are not being woken up to see if they are still alive after months of dormancy, which actually would make some sense.

No, these animals are called upon to do something far more important.

You see, we might have sophisticate technology and even more sophisticated models for making weather forecasts, but we need something else.

After all, they still sell Farmer’s Almanacs in this country.

And when it comes to predicting when the winter weather will subside, what better expert to consult than a giant hibernating squirrel?

So tomorrow morning, captive groundhogs throughout the US and Canada will be woken up from their winter slumber. Their handlers will be wearing thick gloves or gauntlets when they wake up the woodchuck weathermen. The reason is simple. These creatures hate being taken out of hibernation, and they have sharp teeth.

If the groundhog sees its shadow, then there will be six more weeks of winter. If the groundhog does not, then there will be an early spring. I’ve always wondered how they knew what the groundhog saw,  because I don’t think a drowsy groundhog is going to see much.

This holiday happens every February 2. Its roots are in the German custom of using badgers or hedgehogs to predict the length of the winter at Candlemas. Large numbers of Germans settled in Pennsylvania during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  They discovered that their new homes had no hedgehogs and no badgers (North American badgers don’t live that far east.)

So the Germans began using groundhogs. Most of these Germans were not from the parts of the German-speaking world that had Alpine marmots, so no one thought to connect this North American species and the one found in Europe.

The most famous of these groundhog festivals is the one held in the hamlet of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The famous groundhog that will be making his weather prognostication at that well-known festival is Punxsutawney Phil.  And this year,  Phil will send his prediction via text message!

And he won’t be the only groundhog making these predictions. There are scores of captive groundhogs that will be called upon to predict when winter will end.

And yes, there is also a film about Groundhog Day that is worth watching:


I just hope that tomorrow doesn’t start repeating itself.

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