Well, since 58Rose put up a photo of his latest animal neighbor I thought we could talk about the woodchuck, or chuck, or ground hog, or whistle pig or red monk as it is called in different places. The ground hog, Marmota monax is a large rodent that is either liked or disliked for many reasons.
Farmers don't like them because they do damage to some crops and pastures. A big ground hog hole can tip over a tractor if the wheel hits it just right. Ground hogs also do damage to cemeteries which upsets a lot of folks. Funny thing is that all that open graas nad pasture land is what made the population of ground hogs grow as big as it is today. But hunters love having a summer animal to hunt and many do hunt them here all summer long in Pennsylvania. The first time I shot at one I was 8 years old and it was 300 hundred yards away and I missed it by 6 inches. That was the first and last time I shot at a ground hog, I like them too much.
So let's look at this rodent a bit and learn more.
Ground hogs, or whistle pigs as we like to call them in my family, are about 2 feet long weighing from 6 to 10 pounds but some can get up to 14 pounds. You may not know it or ever have seen it but these fat guys and gals can climb trees, no kidding, I've seen them before a few times laying on a low branch basking in the afternoon sun.
Ground hogs dig burrows with a mound of dirt taken from the burrow around the entance. The entrance goes down real steep at first and then levels off. There is one front entrance and 1 to 3 back doors for them to come and go and the back doors don't have the mound around them. How much wood can a wood chuck chuck? Well none at all because wood is not something they have an interest in unless it is a big tree root in the way of the digging of the burrow. Their large front incisor teeth can cut right through a large tree root. The depth of their burrows depends on the type of soil, a more pourous soil lets them dig deeper.
The burrow does help other animal too because many other small animals use them to hide from predators and to sleep in at times. The burrows also help poor pasturage and land by helping rain get down into the ground better.
The ground hog is a veggie eater and grass is their main diet but they do love spring dandelions and they will eat fall apples and pears. They do like corn on the cob, peas, beans and lettuce so you better watch to see if they invade your garden because they will mow them all down in the morning before you even get out of bed. They can climb fence and scoot under them so fencing shoud be high and some of the fence should go underground a few inches.
Right now the young are being born and there are 3 to 4 in the litter. At birth they weigh about an ounce, they are blind and naked. They stay in the nest for about 4 weeks till their eyes open and then they are ready to start mowing down grass or your veggies.
Ground hogs make noise. They have a whistle alarm call, they growl when they are cornered and will go after a predator while growling and clicking their teeth. They also make a "chuck-chuck" sound while foraging or communicating with other family members. Captured ones also make a purring sound.
They can be brown, red, grey or even blond. We have a big blond girl across the street and she has lived there for the last 5 years. We have watched her grow rather chunky, I bet she is at least 15 pounds. We have see a few of her young but none of them are blond like she is.
The only predators of adult ground hogs are the red fox and dogs. Hawks and owls only take the youngest ones.
Parasites don't seem to be a problem for ground hogs but hey have one big problem, malocclusion which is the improper growth of their incisors. If the incisors do not meet properly then one tooth will continue to grow backwards and it finally penetrates the skull and kills them. Rodent incisors never stop growing.
Oh, and ground hogs suck at weather forecasting, no intelligent ground hog comes out of the burrow in February.
I love whistle pigs!