Who Is Ms. G?
Ms. G resides at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln. She was orphaned soon after her birth in the spring of 2003. She was hand raised and has a bond with humans that prevents her from being truly wild and releasable. Because of this, she came to Drumlin Farm in June 2003.
When she's not forecasting the weather, Ms. G is still a very busy groundhog. She travels to schools, scout troops, and other organizations as part of the Mass Audubon Ark Outreach program to educate both children and adults about her species, and gives the public a rare opportunity to see our local weather-predicting groundhog up close and personal.
The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck (Marmota monax), is the third largest member of the rodent family. Groundhogs have powerful legs with sharp claws, which allow them to dig burrows for their homes. Since they are slow moving and are prey for wolves, coyotes, and foxes, they stay close to their burrow so they can scurry back home at any sign of danger. They whistle through their large teeth to warn one another of danger, so some folks call woodchucks "whistling pigs."
Groundhogs generally hibernate from October through March, making them one of New England's true hibernators. Before hibernating, they feast on their favorite foods-dandelion greens, clover, and grasses-to put on plenty of weight for their long winter nap. While hibernating, a groundhog's body temperature drops from 90 degrees to 40 degrees, and its heartbeat drops from 100 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute!
Contrary to the legend, male groundhogs are not looking for their shadow when they wake in winter-they are looking for love! Male groundhogs survey their territory (roughly three acres) in search of a suitable mate. After visiting several burrows of hibernating females, the males return to their own hideaway for several more weeks. In March, they return to a female's burrow to mate and remain there until the female is ready to give birth, at which time she evicts the male from the den. New litters of baby groundhogs arrive in April when food is plentiful thanks to warmer weather.
The History of Groundhog Day
In 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers. When German settlers arrived in the 1700s, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, celebrated at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of winter, thus the name "Candlemas." Superstition held that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.
According to the old English saying:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
To determine the "forecast," Germans traditionally watched a badger to check for a shadow. In the New World, the groundhog, upon waking from a midwinter slumber, was selected as the replacement. Thus the tradition of the groundhog and his weather forecast began: If he sees his shadow, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays aboveground.