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What Time is it in Nature: Baby Groundhogs at Prairie Ridge

May 15, 2014

This story is brought to you by Mandy Cuskelly, Citizen Science Educator at Prairie Ridge and part of the AmeriCorps Mountains to the Sea Program.

Exciting times at Prairie Ridge–baby Groundhogs!

Groundhogs and their burrows are a common sight at Prairie Ridge and the adult Groundhogs are often seen grazing outside their burrows during the day. They are the largest type of squirrel in North Carolina and are also known as Woodchucks and Whistle Pigs.

We had an unusual sighting recently: a disoriented baby Groundhog was discovered by a member of the Museum education staff and brought it to the attention of the staff at Prairie Ridge. Upon investigating a well-known Groundhog hole, we discovered a baby Groundhog with eyes still mostly shut, lethargically wandering outside of its burrow. Shortly after, a second baby wandered out of the hole, equally lost.

Wandering baby groundhog

Typically, one litter of 2-6 young are produced annually in April-May and the babies will stay with their mother for about two months, learning their mother’s behavior. The babies we discovered were about the size of your hand and were much too young to be roaming around on their own.

Baby groundhog

We brought them out of the heat and called the wildlife rehabilitation group CLAWS, Inc. to consult on their odd behavior. They thought that the mother had most likely died and never returned to her babies, leading them to wander out of the burrow when they became hungry.

Groundhog asleep

The babies we found would have no chance of surviving at such a young age, and CLAWS discovered that they were extremely dehydrated after a veterinary exam.  The dehydration led to the lethargic behavior they were exhibiting, which would put them at risk of predation by Gray and Red Foxes, Coyotes, various owls, and hawks if they had not been rescued. Because they are slow-moving, Groundhogs can be also hit by cars. The typical life span of a Groundhog in the wild is about 3 years, but the babies we discovered would never have made it that long without help.

Pair of Groundhogs

Happily, after drinking some water, the Groundhogs perked right up and are now in the capable hands of CLAWS rehabilitators doing wonderfully. They will be rehabbed for a later release back into the wild, hopefully back here at Prairie Ridge!

Sleepy Groundhog

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Mandy Cuskelly and Triangle Veterinary Referral Hospital, used with permission)

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