Groundhog Day? They're actually still hibernating

Instead of waking to revelers knocking on the doors to their dens, groundhogs throughout the region spent last Sunday in peace.

Legend has it that if a groundhog emerges from its den Feb. 2 and sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.

But in DuPage, Kane and nearby counties, groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are still hibernating this time of year.

“Depending on food and temperatures, groundhogs can hibernate from late October through March,” said Brian Kraskiewicz, a wildlife ecologist with Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. “Their heart rate, metabolism and respiration slow, and they live off body fat. If they emerge too early, they might not have the energy to look for food and survive in the cold,” 

Kraskiewicz notes that most towns’ prognosticating mammals are captive creatures that don’t hibernate and are not harmed by their participation in public celebrations.

“We’re happy to let Punxsutawney Phil and Woodstock Willie have all the glory and fame while we here at the Forest Preserve District work to provide healthy habitats that can support the normal behaviors of groundhogs that live in the wild.”

Although rooted in pagan festivals of renewal, Groundhog Day is a direct descendant of the Christian “Candlemas Day,” winter’s halfway mark, when people worldwide look to groundhogs, bears, hedgehogs and other animals for early signs of spring.


–News Bulletin news sources