Groundhogs and Beavers

Groundhogs

Groundhogs are rodents, and are also known as Woodchucks, Whistlepigs, and Land Beavers. They are capable of climbing trees and swimming, though they spend most of their time on the ground. They make their burrows in fields and other open spaces near woodlands. During the winter season, they hibernate in their burrows until February, when the males come out to find mates. Typically, males make their burrows near where a group of females have made their burrows, so the males come out to see if the females are still there. Once they have located females, the males go back to sleep until their actual mating season in early March. Groundhogs are fairly antisocial creatures, where they only interact with each other when it is mating season. Even after giving birth to a liter of 4-6 pups in mid- to late spring, the pups stay with their mother for a few months before being weaned; but once they are weaned, they are then sent off on their own.

During the summer and fall seasons, groundhogs gorge themselves in preparation for the next winter. Come late fall, groundhogs go deep into their burrows and hibernate. Groundhogs are considered “true hibernators”, because their body goes into a true dormant state, where both their body temperature and heart rate drop dramatically. However, contrary to popular belief, hibernation does not occur where the animal is dormant for the entire winter.  The animal will drop its body temperature to about 5 degrees Celcius and heart rate to about 5 beats per minute, for about a week–then the animal will wake up for a day or two, toss and turn a little, and then go back into a dormant state. This process continues throughout the hibernation.

Groundhogs are herbivores, and feast on grasses, plants, fruits, and tree bark. They can be a nuisance to farmers during their gorge season, due to eating produce and making burrows in farm fields.  This species is also the star of the well-known ‘Groundhog Day’ in the United States, held on February 2nd every year.  On this day, if the groundhog sees its shadow, then there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  It is thought that groundhogs were intelligently chosen as an estimator for the remaining length of the winter season, because they have to know when to emerge from hibernation to ensure pup survival; if the pups are born to early, then the mother will not have enough food or nutrients to be able to feed then, and if they are born too late, the pups won’t be able to put on enough weight before winter. Talk about precise timing!

Beavers

Beavers are members of the rodent family, and, being the great engineers that they are, are second only to humans in their ability to manipulate their environment. Beavers typically make burrows near ponds and lakes, but they can also build dams in less- appropriate areas to make a habitat more suitable; by building structures made out of logs and mud in these less-suitable areas, they can block off streams and rivers to make the ponds that they desire.

Beaver “huts”, called lodges, are located in the middle of the ponds. They are also built out of mud and logs, and can only be entered from underwater. A single family will live in a lodge, consisting of parents, kits (babies), and yearlings (the kits born the previous year). Beavers are monogamous, meaning that they mate for life, and they are also very social and very family-oriented animals. Young beavers stay with their parents for at least a couple of years, even helping to raise their new siblings the next year. Both parents partake in raising the young, finding food, and defending the family and territory.

Beavers are herbivores, eating tree bark, leaves, roots, and aquatic plants.  While they waddle on land, they are extremely graceful in the water. Their webbed feet allow for easy swimming, and their paddle-like tail allows for navigation in the water. The tail is extremely strong, and can also be used as a defense mechanism–either by hitting foes with it, or slamming it down in the water to create an intense splash. Other adaptions that they have to assist with life in the water are waterproof fur, transparent eyelids that function like goggles, and impressive lung capacity that allows them to stay underwater for up to 15 minutes. They are also able to survive fine in the winter, and continue to function normally in the water, even when the lake or pond is frozen on top.