Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are members of the squirrel family. The heavy-bodied, burrowing animals typically measure 16-26”, including a 6” tail. They can weigh up to 10 pounds. Groundhogs have yellowish-brown fur with white around their nose, and feet that are dark brown to black.
Groundhogs are active during the day, mostly in the mornings and late afternoons, and are solitary. They feed on green plants as well as bark, insects and snails. Predators include coyotes, domestic dogs, foxes, black bears, hawks and snakes. While their large size helps deter predators, groundhogs use their teeth to defend themselves and produce a shrill whistle when threatened. They can be fierce fighters when cornered, and rely on their keen hearing and sense of smell to escape to their dens when danger approaches.
Groundhogs are excellent diggers; their burrows are 25-30’ long and up to 5’ deep, with at least two entrances. The main entrance is often conspicuous, with a nearby mound of freshly dug dirt. Other, less visible entrances are used for escape. A nesting chamber for sleeping and raising the young is at the end of the main tunnel; a toilet chamber helps keep the burrow clean. They often have a summer and winter den. Hibernating dens are in woody areas, with summer dens in fields or grasslands. They hibernate from October to February.
Groundhogs mate in March or April, and a litter of 2-6 young is born in April or May. They live to be four to five years old. Their omnivore appetite and deep burrowing can be problematic to landowners and farmers due to feeding on garden plants, and tunneling that can damage building foundations, dams, and farm crops, and cause holes in yards and pastures. The groundhog is designated a nuisance species in Virginia.