Hardcore Hibernators: How Long Do Groundhogs Hibernate?

Groundhogs are members of the rodent family and are found in southern Canada as well as parts of the southern Yukon and Northwest Territories. 

Groundhogs may also be referred to as woodchucks or whistle-pigs, which is just about the cutest name I’ve ever heard!

These cute little rodents are true hibernators.

Groundhogs enter their burrow for hibernation in late September or October and do not come out until March – which is when the famous groundhogs come out and predict the arrival of spring. This means that they can hibernate for 6 months.

When not hibernating, groundhogs enjoy eating and sunning themselves. 

How do Groundhogs Prepare to Hibernate?

Like many hibernating animals, groundhogs prepare to hibernate by eating a lot and fattening themselves up. They wouldn’t be able to make it through hibernation on an empty stomach!

Groundhogs prefer to eat a diet of green vegetation and enjoy eating many varieties of wild plants, including clover and alfalfa. They also enjoy eating vegetables out of gardens if they can access them. 

Groundhog Burrows

Groundhogs are great diggers and create elaborate burrows, where they spend most of their time. Even when they are not hibernating, the burrow serves as protection from predators

Groundhogs usually have two different burrows – one for summer and one for winter hibernation. Imagine – a little rodent with a winter home and a vacation home!

The summer burrows are usually located in a grassy field, and the groundhog may spend a lot of time sunning himself and eating. The summer burrow may have up to four entrances so that the groundhog can come and go easily.

The winter burrow is usually in the forest. The winter burrow typically only has one entrance, because the groundhog is not going in and out as it would be in the summer.

The groundhog usually digs a hole and creates a tunnel, then at the end of the tunnel makes a big open space in which to hibernate.

The hibernation den is lined with grass, and usually, the groundhog will block off the entrance to the tunnel with dirt, so that it is nice and secure. 

What Happens During Hibernation?

Once groundhogs are ready to hibernate, they will enter their burrows and enter a sleep-like state. Their heart rates lower and they hardly move at all for the next several months. 

Because they are not eating anything during this time, the groundhog’s body uses up all that fat that it stored before hibernation. This is why putting on extra body fat before hibernation is so important. 

Groundhogs are a real Canadian icon and it is always fun to see them every March when they give us their “prediction” about spring!

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