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The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.[2] The groundhog is a lowland creature of North America; it is found through much of the eastern United States, across Canada and into Alaska.[3] It was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758.[4]

The groundhog is also referred to as a chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig,[5][6] whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk[7] and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, siffleux.Linnaeus, 1758
Arctomys monax (Linnaeus, 1758)

The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.[2] The groundhog is a lowland creature of North America; it is found through much of the eastern United States, across Canada and into Alaska.[3] It was first scientifically described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758.[4]

The groundhog is also referred to as a chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig,[5][6] whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk[7] and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, siffleux.[8]

The name "thickwood badger" was given in the Northwest to distinguish the animal from the prairie badger. Monax (Móonack) is an Algonquian name of the woodchuck, which meant "digger" (cf. Lenape monachgeu).[9][10] Young groundhogs may be called chucklings.[11]:66

The groundhog, being a lowland animal, is exceptional among marmots. Other marmots, such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas.

The committee concludes that "a small bounty will prove of incalculable good; at all events, even as an experiment, it is certainly worth trying; therefore your committee would respectfully recommend that the accompanying bill be passed."[86]

Groundhogs may be raised in captivity, but their aggressive nature can pose problems. Doug Schwartz, a zookeeper and groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo, has been quoted as saying "They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. His natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."[87] Groundhogs cared for in wildlife rehabilitation that survive but cannot be returned to the wild may remain with their caregivers and become educational ambassadors.[83] In some parts of the U.S., they have been eaten.[84]

A report in 1883 by the New Hampshire Legislative Woodchuck Committee describes the groundhog's objectionable character:[85]

The woodchuck, despite its deformities both of mind and body, possesses some of the amenities of a higher civilization. It cleans its face after the manner of the squirrels, and licks its fur after the manner of a cat. Your committee is too wise, however, to be deceived by this purely superficial observation of better habits. Contemporaneous with the ark, the woodchuck has not made any material progress in social science, and it is now too late to reform the wayward sinner. The average age of the woodchuck is too long to please your committee.... The woodchuck is not only a nuisance, but also a bore. It burrows beneath the soil, and then chuckles to see a mowing machine, man and all, slump into one of these holes and disappear....

The committee concludes that "a small bounty will prove of incalculable good; at all events, even as an experiment, it is certainly worth trying; therefore your committee would respectfully recommend that the accompanying bill be passed."[86]

Groundhogs

Groundhogs may be raised in captivity, but their aggressive nature can pose problems. Doug Schwartz, a zookeeper and groundhog trainer at the Staten Island Zoo, has been quoted as saying "They’re known for their aggression, so you’re starting from a hard place. His natural impulse is to kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out. You have to work to produce the sweet and cuddly."[87] Groundhogs cared for in wildlife rehabilitation that survive but cannot be returned to the wild may remain with their caregivers and become educational ambassadors.[88][89][90]

In the United States and Canada, the yearly February 2 Groundhog Day celebration has given the groundhog recognition and popularity. The most popularly known of these groundhogs are Punxsutawney Phil, Wiarton Willie, Jimmy the Groundhog, Dunkirk Dave, and Staten Island Chuck kept as part of Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania; Wiarton, Ontario; Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; Dunkirk, New York; and Staten Island respectively. The 1993 comedy film Groundhog Day references several events related to Groundhog Day, and portrays both Punxsutawney Phil himself, and the annual Groundhog Day ceremony. Famous Southern groundhogs include General Beauregard Lee, based at the Dauset Trails Nature Center outside Atlanta, Georgia.[91]

Groundhogs are used in medical research on hepatitis B-induced liver cancer. A percentage of the woodchuck population is infected with the woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV), similar to human hepatitis B virus. Humans do not receive hepatitis from woodchucks with WHV but the virus and its effects on the liver make the woodchuck the best available animal for the study of viral hepatitis in humans. The only other animal model for hepatitis B virus studies is the chimpanzee, an endangered species.[92] Woodchucks are also used in biomedical research investigating metabolic function, obesity, energy balance, the endocrine system, reproduction, neurology, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and neoplastic disease.[93] Researching the hibernation patterns of groundhogs may lead to benefits for humans, including lowering of the heart rate in complicated surgical procedures.[94]

Groundhog burrows have revealed at least two archaeological sites, the Ufferman Site in the U.S. state of Ohio[95] and Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania. Archaeologists have never excavated the Ufferman Site, but the activities of local groundhogs have revealed numerous artifacts. They favor the loose soil of the esker at the site lies, and their burrow digging has brought many objects to the surface: human and animal bones, pottery, and bits of stone.[95] Woodchuck remains were found in the Indian mounds at Aztalan, Jefferson County, Wisconsin.[96]

Robert Frost's poem "A Drumlin Woodchuck" uses the imagery of a groundhog dug into a small ridge as a metaphor for his emotional reticence.[97]