Groundhog Day: More than Just a Shadow

Groundhog Day—celebrated each year on February 2—is a fun tradition that most of us are familiar with. According to folklore, if a groundhog sees its shadow on this day, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, spring is just around the corner!

This year, the Wildlife Center of Virginia is celebrating by reminding people about the importance of protecting groundhogs and how to live more harmoniously with them as wild neighbors.

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are technically members of the squirrel family. Found in a variety of habitats throughout eastern North America, they live in burrows that they dig themselves. As herbivores, they eat a variety of native plants, including grasses, clover, and dandelions. This makes them important seed dispersers, helping to support healthy forests and meadows.

Despite their beneficial role in the ecosystem, groundhogs are often misunderstood and seen as pests because they can damage gardens and landscaping. However, in most cases, groundhogs can co-exist peacefully with humans.

Woodchucks resting in a box
Groundhog closeup

Tips for Helping Groundhogs

  • Leave them alone. Groundhogs are wild animals, and keeping them as pets or attempting to raise them without a rehabilitation permit is unlawful. If you see a groundhog in your yard, let it be.
  • Protect their habitat. Groundhogs need healthy habitats to survive. If you live in an area where groundhogs are found, please consider planting native plants and trees to provide them with natural sources of food and shelter.
  • Be careful when driving. Groundhogs are often hit by cars, especially in the spring when they are emerging from their burrows. Please be extra cautious when driving in areas where groundhogs are known to live.
  • If you find a sick or injured groundhog, use caution! Adults have a powerful bite.
  • Never touch a woodchuck of any age barehanded; always wear leather gloves. Don’t come into direct contact with saliva, even of baby woodchucks. Groundhogs of any age are categorized as high-risk rabies species. Visit the Center’s Woodchucks [Groundhogs] as Neighbors page for more information and tips and remember to contact a wildlife professional before intervening.

Groundhog Day is a great opportunity to learn more about these charismatic animals and how we can help them. By understanding and appreciating groundhogs, we can help to ensure their survival for generations to come.

We hope you have a happy and healthy Groundhog Day!