Groundhogs are well known as the “first sign of Spring” when they are sighted. They are also sometimes known as woodchucks, land-beavers, and “whistle pigs” from their habit of emitting a loud whistle to alert other groundhogs of danger.
Their scientific name is Marmota monax, and they are mammals that belong in the rodentia order (this includes mice, rats, and hamsters). They are also the largest of the sciuridae family (which includes squirrels, chipmunks and marmots).
While it is possible for mature groundhogs to reach up to 30 inches long and weigh as much as 31 pounds, they are typically known to measure anywhere from 16 to 26 inches in length, and weigh around 5 to 10 pounds. They are recognized for their stocky build, short legs, and a medium length tail. Their heads are broad and flattened with short ears and a blunt nose. Their flattened tails are approximately 6 inches in length, and vary in colour from dark-brown to black. Their tails are also comparably shorter than that of its sciurid cousins, measuring only about one-fourth of its overall body length.
They are talented swimmers and tree climbers, which they use to their benefit to help them escape predators. They dig tunnels underground, averaging about 40 feet long to 5 feet deep. A groundhog’s diet consists primarily of plant material like wild grasses and berries, however they also enjoy agricultural crops, especially alfalfa. They have also been known to eat grubs, insects, and snails.
The lifespan of a groundhog is about 10 years in captivity, and 6 in the wild. They hibernate from October to March or April, and often build a special burrow just for that purpose. Groundhog pairs mate in the spring and have a litter of 2-6 helpless offspring that are ready to live on their own in 5-6 weeks. Male groundhogs will usually leave the den just before the babies arrive.
To control groundhog populations, you’ll want to wait until spring or summer, when the days are sunny and temperate, encouraging the animals to leave their burrows. One way you can make groundhogs move out is to buy some sudsy or cloudy ammonia from the store, and pour a great deal of it into their burrows. If you can’t find sudsy ammonia, you can make your own by adding eight parts ammonia to one part water and two spoonfuls of detergent. Once the ammonia permeates the burrow, groundhogs will leave within a day or so, providing they have no young. If they do have children, they leave to find a replacement burrow, then come back to get their children and leave, which can take a few extra days.
Using a safe trap of some sort is another humane and less toxic way to get rid of groundhogs. They are fairly smart animals, so you’ll have to be patient, but within a few days you should begin catching groundhogs. Within a week or so, you can relocate an entire population. To begin with, you’ll want to leave the trap open and unset, with small amounts of food in it. This lets the groundhogs get used to the idea of a safe meal. Since the traps can sometimes take awhile to be triggered, it helps to know the groundhogs will spend a good deal of time in it. After a few days of this, set the trap, and you should catch your groundhog. Cover the cage with a blanket and relocate the animal far away, just leaving the cage open for them to wander out of. Repeat this tactic until all of your groundhogs are gone.
Some of these methods may be illegal in some areas, so it’s important to check with a local conservation association or fish and game office to make sure you aren’t breaking any laws.
There are several ways you can get groundhogs off your property. Some effective ways are bait traps to capture groundhogs, smoke them out of their tunnel, pour ammonia down their tunnels, deter them using garlic or pepper, or sprinkle talcum powder in your garden.
Groundhogs are not generally known to be vicious or aggressive. However, if cornered by a human or a pet, they have very large front teeth that they can use to bite.
While generally groundhogs do not carry a lot of diseases, there are a few that they could possibly transmit to you. This includes powassan disease, rabies, and tularemia.
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