What you don’t know about Groundhog Day

  • Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013 11:55 p.m.

The arrival of February brings an important date.

No, it’s not Super Bowl Sunday or Valentine’s Day. It’s Groundhog Day, which is today.

Two groundhogs have been anointed the nation’s official weather prognosticators: Punxsutawney Phil, a resident of Punxsutawney, Pa., and the South’s own Gen. Beauregard Lee, a resident of the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, Ga.

Both face an interesting challenge this year, given the wacky weather.

Stephanie Reeves, Gen. Beauregard Lee’s personal press secretary at the Yellow River Game Ranch, said predicting the seasonal change can be tricky.

“It’s 72 (Wednesday), 45 (Thursday) and 41 (today/Friday) – so who knows,” she said. “But he’s got a great accuracy percentile. He’s only been wrong once since 1990. That was when the big blizzard hit ... and everyone was wrong that time.”

Regardless of the outcome of Gen. Beauregard Lee’s big day, it’s unlikely he will lose any of his star power. And why should he? Groundhogs, in general, and especially when it comes to Gen. Beauregard Lee, are fascinating creatures.

There’s a lot more to these furry critters than one might realize. Here are a few little known facts about these adorable weather prophets.

The Groundhog Day traditions can be linked to the fifth century. Seriously. The European Celts believed that specific creatures had supernatural powers on special days. For those living in France and Germany, these animals included bears and groundhogs. The dates that these animals possessed special skills fell at the half-way point between the winter equinox (Dec. 21) and the spring solstice (March 20). The dates are roughly 40 days after Christmas and 40 days before Easter.

Ancient folks looked to see how the den-dwelling animals emerged from hibernation on those dates. The wisdom of the day indicated that if the animal emerged, saw its shadow and retreated back into its den, there would be four to six more weeks of winter. If the animal wasn’t frightened and came out, then they reasoned that spring was on the way.

As Christianity became prevalent, this former pagan observance was called “Candlemas Day.” In America, Candlemas Day became Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day in America has been documented into the 1800s.

Speaking of hibernation – groundhogs are one of the few animals that do it right. Apparently, animals that hibernate are not just asleep. In fact they are in a coma, in which their body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows and breathing nearly stops. Groundhogs are Grade-A hibernators.

A groundhog by any other name is – a woodchuck? Groundhogs, a small mammal in the order Rodentia, are also known as woodchucks or whistle pigs. They enjoy vegetables and salad-esque items, though they have been known to eat just about anything. Their natural diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves. They are also nocturnal animals.

They dig it – literally. An average groundhog can excavate more than 700 pounds of dirt when digging just one den. A single groundhog might have four or five dens scattered across its territory.

They are very cozy homes. So cozy, in fact, that other animals – foxes, opossums, raccoons and skunks – often commandeer them.

Groundhogs are sociable critters. Groundhogs are creatures that love to gab in their native “groundhogese.” And the chatter boxes put their vocals to good use. They can even use their voice to tip off comrades with a whistle when there is approaching danger. The whistling comes in handy for other things too – like whispering sweet nothings when mating arrives in the spring.

Lifestyle Editor Lindsey Adkison writes about lifestyle topics. Contact her at ladkisonthebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 316.

©2013 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)

Visit The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.) at www.thebrunswicknews.com

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