How much wood could a woodchuck chuck...

nature_science_you

By Al Lowe
Contributor

"How much wood could a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
That old children's saying may be sort of cute, but it has no real relationship to the animal itself. Woodchucks have nothing at all to do with wood. It is really a marmot. There are other marmots in Canada, but they live in the far west.
Woodchucks are quite substantial animals, adult males weighing in at about seven to eight pounds (with some much heavier), and perhaps 20 inches long. They have heavy fur coats, so they always look rather overweight and clumsy. The fur is generally brown, often with a strong reddish appearance.
These animals are great excavators. An ordinary tunnel may be about 25 feet long, but some ambitious woodchucks sometimes make one of up to 45 feet or more. Also, this is not just a hole in the ground. There is a nest area, and a separate room for a toilet. The 'main room' may be as wide as 2 feet. The main entrance is surrounded by earth or sand, and is where the woodchuck suns himself on those hit summer days. But he is also a crafty fellow. He has several other entrances, hidden among roots or rocks, where he can see without being seen.
The food of this groundhog is all vegetable. He is very fond of grasses, clovers, alfalfa and so on, such as found in any pasture. They like garden crops, too, and can decimate your garden in a night or two. When they are fattening up for the winter, they use up about a pound, at least of green stuff per day. That's a lot!
Years ago, all farmers did their best to get rid of as many woodchucks as they could. This was mainly because horses, would often step into a hold and break a leg.
The woodchuck has many fewer natural enemies than he used to. At one time bears, eagles, wolves, foxes, bobcats, and others preyed on chucks a lot. Dogs of course will chase them and try to get at them before they go underground.
If a dog corners a woodchuck, he often gets quite a surprise. Groundhogs are fierce, determined and dangerous adversaries. Many a farm dog has the scars to prove it.
There is an old folk take that the woodchuck comes out of his hole on Feb 2 of each year. If it sees its shadow, down it goes, and we have six more weeks of winter. If not, spring in coming. Around here, we are always still battling winter in March anyway. It would sure be a dumb woodchuck who would come up at the first of February to look for spring in the Rainy River District.
The Woodchuck, Marmota monax, is a members of the squirrel family. Look for him along the side of the road, or near a fence in a pasture field. If he gets into your garden, you'll know it quite soon. The Woodchuck is quite a common feature in a lot of Northwestern Ontario.