What is Groundhog Day?
Groundhog Day is the day when people look to the groundhog to predict the weather for the next six weeks.
Folklore says that if the sun is shining when the ground hog comes out of his burrow, then the groundhog will go back into its burrow and we will have winter for six more weeks. However, if it is cloudy, then spring will come early that year.
When is Groundhog Day celebrated?
Who celebrates this day?
This is a tradition in the United States. It is not a federal holiday and is mostly just for fun and something that weather forecasters like to talk about for entertainment.
What do people do to celebrate?
There are a number of celebrations throughout the United States. The largest celebration takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has predicted the weather each year since 1886. Large crowds of well over 10,000 people gather here to see Phil come out of his burrow at around 7:30 am.
Other celebrations take place in towns such as Lilburn, Georgia with their groundhog General Beauregard Lee; Staten Island, New York with Staten Island Chuck; and Marion, Ohio with Buckeye Chuck. There are even celebrations in Canada.
History of Groundhog Day
The origins of Groundhog Day can be traced to German settlers in Pennsylvania. These settlers celebrated February 2nd as Candlemas Day. On this day if the sun came out then there would be six more weeks of wintry weather.
At some point people began to look to the groundhog to make this prediction. The earliest reference to the groundhog is in an 1841 journal entry. In 1886 the Punxsutawney newspaper declared February 2nd as Groundhog Day and named the local groundhog as Punxsutawney Phil. Since then the day and tradition has spread throughout the United States.
Fun Facts About Groundhog Day
This day is the official holiday of the University of Texas at Irving where they have a big celebration each year.
The 1993 movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray took place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and made the holiday even more popular.
How accurate the predictions of the groundhogs are is up for debate. People who organize the day say that they are very accurate. However, others say it's just luck.
In Alaska they use a marmot and have a marmot day instead.
Another name for the groundhog is the woodchuck. It is part of the squirrel family.
Punxsutawney Phil normally lives in a nice climate controlled home in the local library throughout most of the year. He is moved up to Gobbler's Knob on February 2nd, where he makes his annual weather prediction. Phil was named after King Phillip.
10 Things You May Not Know About Groundhogs
Groundhogs are among the few animals that are true hibernators, fattening up in the warm seasons and snoozing for most of three months during the chill times.
While hibernating, a woodchuck’s body temperature can drop from about 99 degrees to as low as 37 (Humans go into mild hypothermia when their body temperature drops a mere 3 degrees, lose consciousness at 82 degrees and face death below 70 degrees).
The heart rate of a hibernating woodchuck slows from about 80 beats per minute to 5.
Breathing slows from around 16 breaths per minute to as few as 2.
During hibernation—150 days without eating—a woodchuck will lose no more than a fourth of its body weight thanks to all the energy saved by the lower metabolism.
During warm seasons, a groundhog may pack in more than a pound of vegetation at one sitting, which is much like a 150-pound man scarfing down a 15-pound steak.
To accommodate its bodacious appetite, woodchucks grow upper and lower incisors that can withstand wear and tear because they grow about a sixteenth of an inch each week.
If properly aligned, woodchuck upper and lower incisors grind away at each other with every bite, keeping suitably short; when not in good order, they may miss one another and just keep growing until they look like the tusks on a wild boar; if too long, a woodchuck’s upper incisors can impale the lower jaw, with fatal results.
Woodchuck burrows, which the animals dig as much as 6 feet deep, can meander underground for 20 feet or more, usually with two entrances but in some cases with nearly a dozen.
Burrows provide groundhogs with their chief means of evading enemies, because the rotund little guys (just before hibernation, a hefty woodchuck may tip the scales at 14 pounds) are too slow to escape most predators in a dead heat: the rodents have a top speed of only 8 mph, while a hungry fox may hit 25 mph.
Bonus Fact: Although groundhogs may not be the best weather predictors, they do in fact emerge from dens in early February. This is the practice of males as they rouse themselves to wander around their 2- to 3-acre territories in search of burrows belonging to females, which the males will enter and where they may spend the night. Research suggests that no mating takes place at this time; the visits probably just let the animals get to know one another so that they can get right down to the business of breeding when they emerge for good in March. Outside of the mating season, woodchucks are solitary, except for females with young, which usually are born in early April.