Groundhogs are remarkable animals. They are one of the most impressive burrow-dwellers that create complex underground structures. On top of that, they’re believed to predict the weather. Punxsutawney Phil is a groundhog from Pennsylvania who is so famous that he has his own holiday, Groundhog Day.
It’s believed that this cute rodent can predict extended winters or early springs based on whether or not he sees his shadow when he comes out on February 2nd, Groundhog Day. So far, Phil has been accurate approximately 40% of the time between 2010 and 2019. But long before predicting the weather, groundhogs must fatten up for hibernation. So what do groundhogs eat to survive?
They eat just about anything they can. A groundhog diet contains a variety of plant-based food, fruits, insects, and even meat. So, let’s learn more about their exciting diet habits.
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What Is a Groundhog?
The groundhog is a rodent in the Sciuridae family that belongs to the group of ground squirrels. This adorable creature has names like chuck, woodchuck, whistle pig, red monk, and land beaver.
These woodchucks are lowland animals that live in North America, primarily in the Eastern United States, Canada, and Alaska.
It is a brilliant animal capable of forming social networks, communicating through whistling, and working together to make burrows.
What’s more interesting about them is that they play an essential role in their ecosystem. For example, groundhogs are responsible for keeping the soil healthy in woodlands and plains. This has earned them a reputation as habitat engineers.
The groundhog is the largest sciurid in its range, with adults reaching up to 26 inches (68 cm) in length and 13 pounds (6 kg) in weight.
Their weight depends on the season. For example, they have fat deposits during winter, making them heavier.
They have a distinct look with four big incisor teeth, which grow weekly. They are professional diggers with long claws and short, powerful legs. But did you know that groundhogs are also excellent at swimming? Their impressive swimming abilities allow them to easily escape predators.
Woodchucks are solitary and anti-social animals. They can be pretty territorial except when it’s breeding season.
Groundhogs will defend their burrows from other groundhogs by hopping around, showing their teeth, and participating in loud squabbles. Even though they live alone, they will whistle to alert others of danger, hence the “whistle pig” name.
Baby groundhogs are born hairless and blind. They are so tiny you can barely see them, measuring just one inch (2.5 cm) long. But they become independent at an early age, leaving their mothers to make burrows at six weeks old.
What Do Groundhogs Eat?
Groundhogs are primarily herbivores, so they eat plenty of plants. Sometimes they also go for flowers and vegetables.
Occasionally, they can feed on other small animals, but they are not considered omnivores. Their diets depend on the season, and they can survive the winter without eating.
Which Vegetables Do They Eat?
Groundhogs can quickly adapt to the local vegetation and consume a variety of vegetables. They’re pretty voracious feeders, eating approximately a pound of vegetation daily.
Farmers and groundhogs tend to have a love-hate relationship. This is because these furry neighbors venture into gardens and eat whatever vegetables they can find. This, of course, can be a headache for a lot of farmers.
They mostly go for lettuce, corn, broccoli, celery, squash, and cabbage. If a farm has any of these vegetables, the probability of being visited by a woodchuck is very high. However, these nasty burrowers can significantly damage property.
Their burrow openings are almost 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter, so you can potentially twist your ankle if you step into one. These holes can also damage the foundation of buildings over time as they gather water.
Which Fruits Do They Eat?
Groundhogs have a pretty diverse diet. As herbivorous creatures, they also eat plenty of fruits to survive. They are great tree climbers who can eat fruits like apples, cherries, mulberries, hackberries, and blackberries.
They need to eat plenty of fruits to fatten themselves for winter. They enjoy eating fruits for the sweetness. And although fruits are high in sugar, they have the nutrients necessary to keep groundhogs on their feet.
For example, they love ripe watermelons because they grow on the ground. It’s easy for them to strip it from the vines and start munching.
Groundhogs like bananas. They will occasionally go through people’s trash or compost. Then, they will eat the fruit inside, tearing it into tiny bites. These animals have adapted to the urban lifestyle, allowing them to easily spot and forage for food.
To prevent groundhogs from eating your fruits, you can use ultrasonic sound devices to scare them away.
Some people also use scarecrows, but these only work as a temporary measure, as groundhogs will eventually realize they are fake.
What Flowers Do They Eat?
Groundhogs are very fond of flowers. They eat many popular backyard flowers and wildflowers in meadows and lawns. Common backyard flowers like marigolds and roses are a couple of their favorites.
They even go for uncommon flowers such as impatiens and petunias. While petunias are in the nightshade family, which is toxic for most animals, groundhogs eat the flower parts without any problem. They usually aim for the petals or suck the nectar out of flower buds.
Groundhogs like to eat the seedlings of sunflowers. They do not usually go for the fully grown flower because it’s too tall to reach. But since groundhogs are smart, they bite the stem until the flower is low enough to eat the seeds.
Basically, a hungry groundhog can and will eat almost anything, even if it’s slightly poisonous for them.
For example, they can eat daylilies which are toxic for most animals if ingested in large portions. Daylilies contain a toxin that affects the kidneys, which can be fatal for animals that overeat it. Usually, the petals are the least toxic.
What Else Do They Eat?
While groundhogs eat mostly plant-based things, they do occasionally eat other animals. They will eat smaller animals, such as insects, to get protein. More rarely they will eat eggs, bird nestlings, and smaller rodents.
They aren’t proper hunters but can eat animals that appear in their path when they are foraging for plants.
When food is scarce, they can eat all the insects they find in their way, such as slugs, snails, beetles, and worms. Groundhogs have poor vision and are not fast, so they can’t snatch dragonflies, flies, or other fast insects from the air.
Groundhogs rarely eat other rodents because they do not want to get infected with the various diseases they carry.
Captive groundhogs will eat the same food as wild groundhogs, with minor alterations.
For example, they can be fed lettuce, dandelions, and vegetables such as carrots and beans. Baby groundhogs in captivity will feed on Ebsilac powdered milk until their digestive systems mature enough to tolerate other food. Once they are older, they can eat mashed fruits like bananas and apples.
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How Do Groundhogs Forage and Hunt?
Groundhogs prefer to live in places where they can dig easily. Their burrows usually have two entrances. They have a central hole with plenty of soil around it and a secondary hole hidden by vegetation.
Woodchucks are diurnal and usually forage for food during the day. However, they never wander too far away from their homes, usually not more than 200 feet (60 m) tops. They typically use the secondary entrance to forage in a nearby food source.
They tend to make burrows in areas with an abundance of food. That said, they don’t shy away from digging under fences to get to a food source.
Groundhogs use their eyes and nose to locate food. They especially rely on their strong sense of smell during foraging time.
However, this is also a disadvantage because farmers use foul-smelling substances to keep them away. After feeding, groundhogs carry extra food to their burrows for safe eating.
Groundhogs are very alert when they are outside. When groundhogs stay still and stand on their two feet, they are checking for danger. Studies show that they can hear footsteps from 500 yards (457.2 m) away. If they see, hear, or smell an observer, they immediately hide themselves.
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Groundhog Eating Patterns
Groundhogs are well-known for their love of eating. But did you know that these furry creatures have seasonal eating patterns?
Spring and Summer
Groundhogs will come out of their burrows mid-afternoon to forage for food. They will eat greens and plants like hackberries, blackberries, and mulberry. Their diet can also include a small percentage of grasshoppers, grubs, and snails.
The metabolism of woodchucks slows down in June, and despite decreasing food intake, their weight increases up to 100%. As a result, they produce fat deposits to survive during hibernation and the late winter months.
In the fall, when the greens are gone, groundhogs will switch their diet to tree barks, twigs, branches, and occasionally small insects.
Since some of their plants and fruits are no longer available during autumn, they switch to animal protein to bulk up for the winter months. They will also store food in their dens if they need extra meals during the colder season.
Groundhogs do not eat during winter because they hibernate.
Depending on the area, groundhogs can hibernate from October to March, while in warmer climates, they only hibernate for three months. Before they go into hibernation, they need to reach their maximum weight.
During hibernation, they can lose as much as half their body weight by February. When they wake up from hibernation, they still have a bit of body fat to last until warmer weather. Then, in springtime, they can start eating their usual plant-based food.
Do Groundhogs Eat Human Food?
Groundhogs have an enormous appetite. They are also adventurous eaters, so they will try plenty of things within their reach.
If they find human food near their burrows, they will definitely try it. Groundhogs will eat human snacks like chips, crackers, fruits, and berries.
They can find human food if they dig through trash cans. It would be best if you never encouraged a woodchuck to eat human food like ice cream or chocolate because it’s not healthy for wild animals. Human food doesn’t go well with their digestive system and might make them sick.
What Do Groundhogs Not Eat?
As we discovered earlier, groundhogs have sensitive noses, so they will stay away from food with powerful fragrances.
For example, herbs with srong smells like thyme, rosemary, oregano, and sage will definitely not attract groundhogs.
As much as they love to munch on flowers, they avoid flowers like lavender and yarrow. Most animals see lavender as a repellent due to its strong fragrance. Others, like lily of the valley, are toxic to animals like the groundhog.
Groundhogs won’t go near any spices like black pepper and cayenne pepper. They generally dislike the smell of all spices. If your backyard is being ravaged by groundhogs, you can sprinkle some pepper in their burrows, and they will soon evacuate.
Just like vampires, groundhogs hate the smell of garlic. Therefore, they will never eat it and stay as far away as possible from a garlic plantation.
How Do You Attract Groundhogs in Your Backyard?
If you want to attract groundhogs in your backyard, simply fill it with all the foods they love.
For example, growing cantaloupes in your backyard raises your chances of attracting them. Then, if you spot their burrows, you can place cantaloupes at the entrance.
Peas, lettuce, and string beans are other great vegetables for attracting groundhogs to your property. Groundhogs find them irresistible and will eventually visit your garden more often for food.
You should use gloves when baiting groundhogs. If groundhogs smell human scents on their food, they may avoid it and possibly avoid your garden.
Farmers consider groundhog pests. Their burrows are extensive, and if you accidentally drive your tractor over one, it might break its axle. They can also damage crops by selectively eating the best cabbage or corn.
As one of the few species that fully hibernates all throughout winter, groundhogs often construct separate winter burrows for hibernation. The holes are usually dug below the frost line in a wooded area. The shelter also maintains a stable temperature for the whole winter.
Groundhogs are the best diggers, as they can move up to 700 pounds of dirt when they make a burrow.
Their homes are complex, with multiple rooms and even bathrooms. When they leave a burrow, it is eventually occupied by other animals, such as red foxes, coyotes, and river otters. Other animals, like opossums and raccoons, occupy the burrow while the groundhog is hibernating.
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Are groundhogs friendly to people?
Groundhogs are typically shy and will run off if they spot humans. However, they aren’t dangerous for humans as their teeth cannot make a deep puncture wound.
What is the lifespan of a groundhog?
The average lifespan of a groundhog is three years, but some studies show they can live up to six years in the wild. They can live up to 14 years in captivity because of the ideal environment.
What time of day are groundhogs most active?
Groundhogs are diurnal animals, which means they are the most active during the day. They usually emerge from their burrows in the early morning or evening hours.
Do groundhogs eat dog food?
Groundhogs might try dog food if their regular food is not available.