Happy Groundhog Day! Today marks the 135th Anniversary of this Holiday being celebrated in the United States. The tradition of Groundhog Day in America started with Pennsylvania Germans. The custom of the groundhog predicting weather goes back to ancient Europe where a badger was actually used for the prediction. There are very few badgers in Pennsylvania—but plenty of woodchucks (groundhogs)—close enough! Here are Five Things you probably don’t know about groundhogs—for many of us hikers—our favorite rodent.
- Groundhogs are marmots; rodents belonging to the genus Marmota. There are 15 species worldwide living in mountainous, wooded, and prairie steppe environments throughout North America, mountainous and steppe regions of Europe and in the Himalayas and Siberia of Asia.
- There are six species of marmots in North America. The woodchuck is the most widely distributed; living throughout Eastern and Central US and Canada. Washington is home to three species: yellow-bellied, hoary, and Olympic (endemic to the Olympic Mountains). The Vancouver Island Marmot is found only on BC’s Vancouver Island. It is a species-at-risk in danger of extinction. The Alaska Marmot lives only in the Brooks Range of northern Alaska.
- Alaskans celebrate Marmot Day on Feb 2. The holiday was established in 2009 (replacing Groundhog Day) upon Governor Sarah Palin’s signature. The holiday is meant to celebrate Alaska’s marmots and Alaskan culture.
- In 2009, the same year Alaska declared its marmot independence; Washington declared the Olympic Marmot its official state endemic mammal. Hurricane Ridge is one of the best places to see this species. Coyotes are the Olympic Marmot’s main predator.
- The Vancouver Island Marmot is making a slow recovery (thanks to captive breeding) after near extinction. One of the official mascots of the 2010 Winter Olympics held in British Columbia was a marmot named Mukmuk. Mukmuk’s name is derived from the Chinook jargon word Muckamuck-which means to eat (which marmots do frequently). Washington has a Muckamuck Mountain (in the Tiffany Highlands) home to a few mukmuks!
Happy Groundhog Day everyone whether winter persists or subsides!
Looking for a great hike to spot a marmot or two? Consult one of my excellent hiking guidebooks to help you locate them!