When Ohio was first settled, groundhogs, also known as woodchucks (Marmota monax), were a rare sight. However, as Ohio’s forested land was cleared for agricultural production, the number of groundhogs increased. Today, groundhogs can be found in all of Ohio’s 88 counties as well as throughout most of North America. Groundhogs are prevalent in the sandy gravel soil of east-central Ohio.
Groundhogs must put on a thick layer of fat to survive their hibernation through the winter months. In the early fall, groundhogs begin to ready themselves for hibernation by spending most of their time eating. Hibernation comes to an end as the first warm days of spring arrive. This is when the groundhog will see, or not see, its shadow (according to legend)!
The head of a groundhog is broad and flat with small ears and eyes. The coarse fur is usually grizzled grayish brown with a reddish cast. The legs and feet are typically dark brown to black colored and are well suited for digging. Unlike the dark yellow colored incisors of other rodents, the groundhog's incisors are white to ivory white.
Immediately after coming out of hibernation the male seeks a mate. After mating with one female, the male will usually search for other females to copulate with. Some males will stay at the burrow site until the female drives him off shortly before she gives birth to her young. Breeding season lasts from March-May and gestation lasts 31-32 days. The young are born from April-early June.
The naked, pink, and helpless newborn groundhogs weigh about 1.5 ounces. In the following few weeks the young will grow rapidly. Litter sizes range from 2-7, but consist of 4-5 young on average. When the young are 9-11 weeks old, the den will be overcrowded and the female will drive them off into nearby burrows, but she will continue to care for them. She will guide them in their development until they leave the territory to create territories of their own.
Habitat & Behavior
Groundhogs live in open grasslands, pastures, and woodlands where it is easy to see predators such as man, hawks, or coyotes coming. Groundhogs prefer sandy, gravely soil perhaps because it is easier to dig in. Burrows can be located in forested areas, along heavy fencerow brush, or along undisturbed stream banks. The entrance to the burrow usually has a large mound of dirt around it. It is usually forked with more than one entrance and several passages or rooms. Some burrows have had over 45 feet on tunnels going five feet beneath the surface. The rooms or chambers of a burrow are used for different purposes. There are usually sleeping, nesting, and excrement chambers.
Groundhogs typically eat grasses, clover, alfalfa, soybeans, peas, lettuce, apples, and, rarely, animal matter, such as snails and insects.