Ground Hog Facts: History, Habitats and Habits

An introduction to the ground hog, learn more ground hog facts including the history of the ground hog, food sources, habits and habitats of the ground hog.

| May/June 1988

The ground hog (in this case, a hoary marmot) may not chuck much wood, but it can scarf down a tenth of its weight in greens each day. Learn more ground hog facts, including history of the ground hog, food sources, habits and habitats of the ground hog. 

Ground Hog Facts: History, Habitats and Habits

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Beats me. But that old conundrum does make one wonder about the origins of the name woodchuck. And what of the big rodent's other titles—such as ground hog and whistle-pig and, in the Western mountains, rockchuck and whistler?

No matter their local nicknames, both the woodchuck and its Western cousins technically are marmots, members of the genus Marmota (from the Latin for "mountain rat"). And all marmots—there are three major species in North America, including the woodchuck—belong to the same family as the squirrels. That family is Sciuridae (from the Greek, meaning "creatures that sit in the shadow of their tails").

But back to the origins of the name woodchuck. Although there are other explanations, the currently popular theory traces back to the Choctaw Indian word shukha, meaning hog. With the arrival of Europeans in North America, shukha soon enough was Anglicized to "chuck" and eventually merged with a word describing the place the little Indian hog was found—"woods." Woodchuck, then, can be taken to mean woods hog and, thus, has not a splinter of connection to chucking wood.

Then there's that other name, ground hog—and the day connected with the moniker.

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