Furry Foe, and Weatherman Alike
Well it is almost February, which means we are past the halfway point of winter and in the heart of Extension meeting season. Looking ahead to the next week, I have a First Monday Coffee Break planned at the Extension office where we will discuss non-meat alternative proteins and how to have a sound conversation on the topic with consumers. Also, next Friday is NW Ohio Crops Day, which I have wrote about before. The deadline to RSVP for the event at the reduced cost is tomorrow at 4:30 p.m.
Speaking of animals and halfway through winter, Sunday is Groundhog Day. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, the groundhog will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If on the other hand, if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly “see its shadow” and retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.
As the legend goes, Groundhog Day has been around for centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates. Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past when nature did, indeed, influence our lives.
Since February 2nd falls about halfway between the winter solstice in December and the vernal equinox in March, it is celebrated in some cultures as the midpoint of winter. It’s not far from the time many groundhogs end their hibernation around the second week of February.
The tradition of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania dates to 1887. Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were Germans who brought the tradition with them. Legend has listed bears and hedgehogs as part to the tradition before the groundhog.
Groundhogs are rodents and belong to the same family as squirrels. The groundhog is known by several other names, such as the woodchuck and whistle-pig. The name whistle-pig comes from the loud, shrill whistle groundhogs sound when frightened. Additionally, they are fierce fighters when necessary. There are reports of groundhogs fighting off dogs as big as collies.
Groundhogs have two burrows, one for summer and one for winter. Generally, they are solitary animals, but may share a burrow. Traditionally, the summer burrow is usually located in the middle of a meadow or pasture, near grass and other plants used for food. The arrival of the coyote in our area almost eliminated the groundhog, but they have made a bit of a comeback as they have started to build summer burrows on the edge of woods and under buildings. The winter den is typically located in a wooded or brushy area near the summer den. The burrows have one main entrance, as well as other tunnels used as lookouts for enemies. In their winter burrows, groundhogs go into deep hibernation. Their metabolic rates and heart rates drop as low as 5 – 15 beats per minute, as well as their internal temperature as low as 38 – 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Punxsutawney Phil is not the only weather-predicting groundhog! Atlanta has General Beauregard Lee, New York has Staten Island Chuck, Ontario has Wiarton Willie, and we in Ohio have Buckeye Chuck. However, Phil is the oldest, the original, and by far the most popular of the weather-predicting groundhogs!
There is still time to register for NW Ohio Crops Day in Deshler! I’ll end this week with a thought from one of my favorites, Walter Cronkite: “And that’s the way it is.” Have a great week.
1/23 Beef Quality Assurance
2/7 NW Ohio Crops Day
Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator
OSU Henry County Extension