Recently my best friend shared a picture of what he found under the hood of his car.  Something had recently gotten into his garage and knocked over stuff.  He was driving to a park and realized he didn’t see how the creature- whatever it was- got out.  When he got to the park, he looked under the hood of his car and sure enough, here’s what he saw-

The furry stowaway- who was probably trying to keep warm this past chilly Ohio April- jumped down to the ground, ran up to another car and got under its hood!  My friend left a note on the car windshield notifying the driver of his newfound predicament.  Crazy stuff!

Back to this miscreant.  What the heck was it?

It is known by many names, such as Woodchuck, Whistle Pig, Monax (‘digger’ in Algonquin), Thickwood Badger and the popular-in-my-state Groundhog.

Groundhogs are rodents, a type of large ground squirrel known as Marmots.  It lives in the lowlands of the eastern United States and across Canada to Alaska.  Larger individuals can get over 2 feet in length and weigh over 10 pounds.  The dig into the earth to create dens for shelter.

The groundhog prefers open country and the edges of woodland, and is rarely far from a burrow entrance.  It has a wide geographic range. It is typically found in low-elevation forests, small woodlots, fields, pastures and hedgerows. It constructs dens in well-drained soil, and most have summer and winter dens. Human activity has increased food access and abundance allowing them to thrive.

I see groundhogs frequently when I’m out walking or driving around the countryside.  They are shy when it comes to people.

This fellow was in a cemetery and hid in its burrow when I came within sight.  Notice the incisor teeth in its mouth- they have four long white incisors that grow constantly, kept in check by a universal chewing that seems as natural as breathing to them.

Groundhogs favor second-growth woodland that humans create, and they have few predators (such as Red Foxes and Coyotes).  They live up to six years in the wild, two or three years being average.  They mainly eat grasses and such wildflowers as Dandelions.  They also eat crops and fruit and will occasionally eat insects and other small creatures.

Here are two young Groundhogs I saw along a greenway trail years ago.  I’m used to seeing the big adults, so seeing the trim little fellows in the first months of life was interesting.

As with all young animals, they seemed to relish play and exploration, which will prepare them for adulthood.

The cute factor was pretty high with these siblings.

This little fellow is going to put on a lot of weight!

Just like this big fella did!

Groundhogs hibernate during winter in a den created just for this purpose.  The den is dug down below the freeze line so that the temperature within is above freezing all winter.  Many animals enter sort of a semi-hibernation or stupor, sleeping a long time and getting up periodically, but Groundhogs truly hibernate, being in a lowered metabolic state for months.  Their heartbeat and breathing slow way down to conserve energy until the winter is over.  These are hardy creatures!

This Groundhog tried to flatten out so that I wouldn’t notice him.  It’s OK buddy, I just wanted a picture.  I like Groundhogs.