Geographical Range Canada, northern and eastern United States
Habitat Forest edges, woodlands, meadows, fields
Scientific Name Marmota monax
Conservation Status Common

This pudgy rodent also goes by the name of groundhog, a reference to its chubby waistline, waddling gait, and habit of living underground. The woodchuck is a vegetarian, feeding on the leaves, flowers and stems of various grasses, on clover and alfalfa, and on many kinds of wild herbs.

It was relatively scarce in North America before white settlers began cutting down forests. But as woodlands were cleared and meadows were opened, the species greatly increased its range.

The woodchuck is famous for its habit of hibernating during the cold winter months. It digs a burrow underneath the ground, usually a maze of tunnels leading to a large chamber, where it makes a nest. In mid-autumn, the animal curls itself into its nest and goes into a deep sleep. It usually hibernates all winter, though a warm spell may awaken it briefly.

That, of course, is the origin of Groundhog Day on February 2, when woodchucks’ hibernation habits are used to “predict” how much longer winter will last. Some people say they rely on the animals’ prediction skills, while others prefer to trust more conventional weather forecasters.