February 2, 2009

Marmota Monax

Your friendly neighborhood woodchuck

Image by Dave Bonta

Today is the day commonly referred to as "Groundhog Day." The taxonomic name for the animal is Marmota monax. Here in New England, we call them woodchucks.

I am a big fan of squirrels. They're not a hobby or anything, they just amuse the heck out of me. And woodchucks are in the squirrel family. They can be often seen near the edges of clearings, since they usually stick fairly close to an entrance to their burrows or thick brush to which they can retreat at the first sign of predators. They're oblong and wobbly, which makes them amusing to watch when they move, but they're faster than they look.

UMass Dartmouth was often a good place to spot woodchucks, especially near the entrance to the campus. Upon arriving or leaving on many occasions there would be a woodchuck, or even a family of woodchucks eating grass and looking up every so often for signs of hawks or other threatening animals.

They dig deep burrows to protect themselves, in which they hide for a good chunk of the winter. While they can be socialized, their first instinct is quite anti-social and aggressive, which probably endears them even more to the heart of this New Englander. And wouldn't it be somewhat tempting to sleep a couple of the winter months away and wake up newly svelte?

There is an awesome cider named for woodchucks.

We usually do not observe Groundhog Day in these parts, but in honor of the plucky little animals, I will raise a cider. It's likely another month before they decide to venture outside; the weather has been prohibitive. Woodchucks, my little friends, I don't blame you.

Posted by James at February 2, 2009 8:28 AM
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