Mammals of Pennsylvania and New Jersey




Background Information

The woodchuck, also known as the groundhog, is found throughout much of eastern United States and central Canada. It even is found in Alaska. The woodchuck got its name from Native Americans. They called it a "wuchak." In Pennsylvania alone, woodchucks can dig up over one ton of soil each year. The woodchuck is a member of the squirrel family.

Physical Features

Woodchucks stand between 16 to 20 inches tall. They have about a 6 inch tale. Most of their coat of fur is a coarse mixture of rusty brown, black and white hairs. However, its stomach and chest fur is soft to protect it against the cold winter while it hibernates. They have a rounded face, tiny ear openings, and short legs.

Woodchucks are rodents. As with all rodents, they have two well developed front teeth. These teeth keep growing through its life. They have 20 other teeth, but it is the two front teeth that keep growing. Woodchucks use their teeth for burrowing into the ground and for eating.

Woodchucks can weigh between 4 to 11 pounds. Their weight increases throughout the summer as they prepare for hibernation.

Life Cycle

When a male woodchuck awakes from hibernation sometime in March, he finds a female. They mate in her burrow. In about one month, 2-6 babies are born. They are blind and without fur. They feed from the female's milk for about two months. After that, they are on their own.

Woodchucks spend 5 months hibernating. They prepare a special "bedroom" with grasses and leaves for the long winter. While hibernating, their body temperatures can drop to 39 degrees. They awake at different times to get rid of body wastes. Punxsutawney Phil and Groundhog Day on February 2 is a legend. Woodchucks actually hibernate several weeks longer.


Woodchucks make their burrows in woodlands, farmers' fields, at the forest edge, or in small rocky hillsides. Sometimes, they live under sheds near people's homes. To avoid danger, they sit up to look out over the land.

Woodchucks dig holes and tunnels called burrows. They can dig tunnels 25 feet long and 5 feet deep. They have several entrances and exits from their burrows.

To protect itself from predators, woodchucks create fake entrances. They dig up the soil around the fake entrance and make it look like the real entrance to their burrow. Meanwhile, they dig their main entrance from underneath the ground. They do not stray too far from their burrows. Sometimes they can be seen enjoying the sunshine next to their burrows.

Although considered a pest by farmers, woodchucks help the environment. Their body wastes help to fertilize the soil. Burrows help to bring air into the soil. When no longer used by the woodchuck, their burrows provide a home for other animals


A woodchuck's diet is simple. They are herbivores, or plant eaters. Woodchucks eat large amounts of farmers' green crops, such as alfalfa and clover. For this reason, they are not a friend of farmers. Farmers will hunt and shoot them in the spring. Woodchucks also eat garden crops if their burrows are near home gardens.

  © Dr. Randall Pellow, 2005