Woodchuck (Marmota monax)

Description
woodchuck (groundhog)

Size

  • Adult woodchucks weigh about 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds).

Appearance

  • The woodchuck is a member of a group of large, ground-dwelling squirrels, called marmots.
  • Like other marmots, general characteristics for the woodchuck include:
    • Robust bodies with broad heads
    • Short powerful legs
    • Strong flattened and curved claws
    • Tails that are about one-quarter the length of the body.
  • The dense, woolly fur of the woodchuck is a grizzled dark brown on the upper parts; under parts are reddish-brown.
  • The bushy tail is dark brown to black.
Distribution
  • Woodchucks occur in the boreal forest, parkland and foothill natural regions where woodlots are broken by pastures and meadows.
Natural History

Habitat

  • By clearing tracts of forest, farmers and foresters have provided the woodchuck with good habitat, and its numbers have increased and expanded into new range.

Food

  • Woodchucks eat a variety of green vegetation. They also eat insects, and when found, the young of ground-nesting birds.

When Active

  • In Alberta, woodchucks are active from March or April until they enter hibernation in late September.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • Although usually a solitary animal, a pair of woodchucks may share the same underground den in summer. Mating occurs soon after emergence from hibernation in March and April.
  • Litters of four to five young are born in May.

Growth Process

  • Young emerge from their burrows in late June and are weaned shortly afterwards.
Conservation and Management

Status

The woodchuck is classified as Secure in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Current management

Hunting

Woodchucks may be hunted, but not trapped, without a licence throughout the province, at all times of the year. See details in the Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations. To view the guide online or to order a printed copy, visit the My Wild Alberta website at:

Similar Species
  • Yellow-bellied Marmot
    Appropriately enough, the yellow belly of the yellow-bellied marmot distinguishes it from the woodchuck. Also, the range of the yellow-bellied marmot is further south in Alberta.

Groundhog Day

Another common name for the woodchuck is groundhog. People have honoured groundhogs with a special date on the calendar, February 2 — Groundhog Day. Legend has it that if a groundhog should awake from its winter hibernation-sleep on that day and emerge to see its shadow, there will be six more weeks of harsh winter.

 

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Updated: May 13, 2010