Desperate people do desperate things, especially if they’ve been largely shut in, tired, perhaps cold and just plain fed up with winter. How desperate? They look for seasonal deliverance from a marmota monax, better known as the groundhog. Yup, every February 2nd tens of thousands of people in person and millions more via websites, newspapers and television reports hope beyond hope that their favorite marmota monax takes a spin outside after hibernating all winter and doesn’t see its shadow. If it does, legend has it that there are another six weeks of winter coming our way. But are these furry little buggers any good at predicting weather patterns? Not really. In fact, they usually get it wrong. These poor prognostications, however, haven’t stopped people in Pennsylvania from checking in on the original Punxsutawney Phil (and his descendants) every Groundhog Day for the last 135 years. People in Germany have been on this mission even longer and it’s not just Phil who draws attention. There are dozens of celebrity groundhogs scurrying around in the U.S. including Dunkirk Dave, Buckeye Chuck, General Beauregard Lee, Staten Island Chuck, Thistle the Whistle-pig and Sir Walter Wally, among others. Looking for more dope on these furry weathermen? WellWell has you covered.
No, some ancient German didn’t just roll out of a beer hall and decide that Feb. 2nd should be a day to celebrate groundhogs. There is a reason for selecting this specific date. It is “cross-quarter” day, which means it falls at the midpoint between one season and another. In this case it falls exactly between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Face it. That should be a good time to check on spring’s pending arrival.
When it comes to checking out for winter, no one outdoes the groundhog. They are “true hibernators,” who have the wherewithal to slow their heartbeats down to five a minute during the chilly months. They also can lower their body temperature down to 41° Fahrenheit. It’s a great way to deal with cold winter nights, but it probably makes them grumpy when they wake up.
Groundhogs like to munch on grass, herbs and things like dandelions, daisies and goldenrods. They also have a taste for human crops. Think carrots and corn. Oh yeah, they do on occasion snack on tree bark, but never meat. Anyone else looking for heart health may want to check out what a plant-based diet can offer people.
Not sure you’re willing to trust travel plans to the whims of a chilly groundhog, but want to remain connected to the animal kingdom? Don’t blame you. Thankfully there are choices. In fact, lots of other animals have been used to size up what weather is coming down the road. Former animals include the English using the hedgehog, the French relying on marmots and the Germans calling on the badger. The groundhog only came into fashion in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania because German settlers a couple of hundred years back found woodchucks readily available.
In case you’re wondering, groundhogs live underground in burrows. They definitely know how to dig and with good reason. Their burrows can be six feet deep and connected to 50-to-60 feet of tunnels with multiple escape exits should some predators come calling.
Don’t even try to argue about it. Punxsutawney Phil (through his descendants) is at the top of the groundhog pile. In fact, about 40,000 people show up every year to see him hopefully not see his shadow. Does his celebrity status give him an edge on weather predictions? It’s debatable. His weather predictions have hit the mark 39 percent of the time over the last 135 years. Okay, maybe he’s batting slightly above average compared to his hairy compatriots, but he’s still wrong more than half the time. A coin flip would offer up better odds.
Do you have a favorite groundhog? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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