Woodchucks

So Just How Much Wood?

At roughly 14 pounds, woodchucks (Marmota monax), also known as groundhogs, are the largest members of the squirrel family in Illinois. They have grayish brown to blackish fur, small ears and bushy tails.

Instead of wood, woodchucks chuck dirt, about 35 cubic feet per burrow. (That’s enough to fill a large refrigerator!) The front paws on their short, strong legs have curved claws that are excellent for digging.

Woodchucks are primarily vegetarians that eat clovers, grasses, ferns, leaves, fruit and garden vegetables, up to 1.5 pounds a day. They occasionally eat snails, insects, eggs and young birds. They are active in the early morning and early evening and are commonly seen along roadsides foraging for food. They're cautious animals, though, and do not travel far from their burrows.

Woodchuck burrows can have up to four entrances and a tunnel system that averages 25 to 30 long and 2 to 5 feet deep. The main entrance is about a foot in diameter.

Woodchucks are true hibernators, and legends aside, they remain hibernating through February. If they emerge too early, they might not have the energy to look for food and survive the cold. By lowering its heart rate, metabolism and respiration and remaining underground, a woodchuck can live off body fat from late October through March.

Woodchucks mate in late February or March and have a litter of four to five young in April or early May. The young are on their own by June or July.