John T. Willis

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Groundhog Day

Every year, the United States and Canada celebrate Groundhog Day on 2 February. The largest Groundhog Day is celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and features the groundhod Punxsutawney Phil. 40,000 people flock to this site for this celebration. Folklore says that when Phil emerges from his burrow on 2 February, if the day is sunny he will see his shadow and retreat into his burrow and winter weather will continue for six more weeks. If the day is dismal and not sunny, he will not see he shadow and spring will arrive early this year.

There are different explanations for the origin of Groundhog Day. Some experts argue that approximately 1,000 years ago, before human beings adopted the Gregorian calendar when the date of the equinox drifted in the Julian calendar, the spring equinox fell on 16 March, exactly six weeks after 2 February. To resolve conflicts about whether this was correct, an arbiter, the groundhog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions about whether this should be according to the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. A diary entry, dated 5 February 1841, refers to a celebration of Groundhog Day in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Most of us remember the movie Groundhog Day in 1993 with the main actor Bill Murray, who was forced to relive that day over and over again until he can learn to abandon his selfishness and become a better person.

The groundhog is also called woodchuck and land-beaver, a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Groundhogs live all the way from Alaska to Alabama.

The groundhog is 16-26 inches long including the tail, and weighs between 4 to 9 pounds. Groundhogs are well adapted for digging. They have short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws. They have two coats of fur: a dense grey undercoat and a longer coat of banded guarded hairs that gives the groundhog its distinctive frosted appearance. Groundhogs live between 2 to 6 years.

Groundhogs eat wild grasses, berries, agricultural crops, grubs, grasshoppers, insects, snails, and other small animals. They sit up eating nuts, but do not bury them for the future. Groundhogs hibernate in a wooded or brushy area below the frost line. They hibernate from October to March or April. To survive the winter, they are at their maximum weight shortly before entering hibernation. They emerge from hibernation with some remaining body fat to live on until the warmer spring weather produces abundant plant materials for food.

Groundhogs are accomplished swimmers and excellent tree climbers. They are generally agonistic and territorial among their own species, and may skirmish to establish dominance. When not feeding, "guards" are nearly motionless standing erect on their hind feet watching for danger. When alarmed, they use a high-pitched whistle to warn the rest of the colony. Depending on the circumstances, groundhogs may make low barks or grind their teeth.

Groundhogs usually breed in their second year. The breeding season extends from early March to mid or late April. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 31 to 32 day gestation perior. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male leaves the den. One litter is produced annually, usually containing 2-6 blind, hairless and helpless young. Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own dens at 5 to 6 weeks of age.

I hope YOU appreciate groundhogs--and all of God's marvelous creatures. Above all this, I hope and pray YOU are thankful for God and stand in awe of his continuing works.

Share YOUR dreams and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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