Our Wild Neighbors

Woodchuck

Marmota monax

A stray visitor to cities present in every Canadian province except for Newfoundland

Image of a Woodchuck, mounted upright on its hind feet, with its head to the right, seen from an angle near the trunk of a tree.

Description of the animal

  • Stocky rodent with a highly flexible body and virtually non-existing neck.
  • Flattened head with two small ears.
  • Adult weight: between three and six kilograms.
  • Short stubby legs. Front legs have long claws for digging.
  • Thick, woolly fur, from a yellowish light brown to a dark reddish brown, depending on the region.
  • Black feet.

Habitat and needs

  • Is primarily an herbivore. The Woodchuck feeds on grassy plants, such as alfalfa and clover. At times, it eats insects and young birds.
  • Digs burrows for shelter during the summer and hibernating in winter. The Groundhog digs a main entrance, several spy-holes, at least two rooms that serve as a nest, and a toilet chamber. It digs its winter burrow deeper in the ground, below the frost line.
  • Accumulates fat during the summer to survive winter.
  • Lives alone in its underground network.
  • Is able to stand on its hind legs and watch the landscape like a sentinel. The Woodchuck has excellent vision and hearing. At the slightest threat, it emits a shrill and saccadic cry to warn other groundhogs in the vicinity. When attacked, the Groundhog fiercely defends itself.

Relationship

  • The Woodchuck can wreak havoc in cultivated fields and gardens. The holes burrowed in lawns, however, help ventilate and enrich the soil.
  • A true hibernator, the Groundhog is the subject of a great deal of medical research on how it can lower its body temperature and reduce its heartbeat and oxygen consumption.
  • February 2 is Groundhog Day! According to a popular North American tradition, if the Groundhog sees its shadow and returns to its burrow, winter will last another six weeks. What a joke!
  • Hunters take little interest in the Woodchuck. Though its pelt is of little value, it does provide some tasty meat.
  • Called a “siffleux" (French for “whistler”) in Quebec.

Living with them

  • If its presence is undesired:
  • Take regular walks in the garden, install objects that reflect or move in the wind, or use movement detectors – the Groundhog is a fearful animal.
  • Sprinkle the garden with a repellent, such as cayenne pepper or ground chili pepper.
  • Install a mesh fence around gardens and trees.
  • Be prudent when driving, since the Woodchuck is not very careful on roads.

Participating cities where this animal has been seen