OK, I’ll admit it. I was pretty surprised to learn that groundhogs are squirrels. Somehow, this chunky fellow who spends most of his time on or under the ground is just so different from the arborial squirrels that it would never occur to me to put them in the same family… Still… they do have that post-orbital process… so go figure!
Of all our western New York squirrels, this one is largest and has the most names. Groundhog and Woodchuck, of course. The Latin name Marmota momax undoubtedly led to the common name Marmot, and its tendency to make a shrill whistling sound when it is startled led to Whistling Pig.
Groundhogs are true hibernators and “sleep” in underground tunnels from October through March or April. (Yeah, and they don’t come out on February 2nd, either…) When they emerge, they eat bark, buds, and twigs until their preferred food of grasses and herbaceous plants are plentiful. Farmers and gardeners know that they are pretty fond of food crops, too. And as you can see from Ruth‘s photo at right, Groundhogs CAN climb trees!