Dennis Ferraro, UNL Extension, is also the resident herpetologist at the School of Natural Resources. Dennis will be writing monthly articles on animals that you might see on your acreage in Nebraska. Watch for future articles to learn what interests a herpetologist!
Groundhogs (Marmota monax), also known as woodchucks, can be sighted throughout the eastern half of Nebraska. Groundhogs are brownish with a grizzled appearance, reaching a length of 16-20 inches, and an average weight of 7-10 pounds.The groundhog has a short, wide head, very small ears, and a short fluffy tail. This short-legged, heavy-bodied animal is sometimes referred to as a land beaver. Actually, the woodchuck is closely related to the ground squirrel.
Groundhogs typically live in burrows at the edges of woodlands rather than in open grasslands. They prefer to dig their holes in slopes or banks. Groundhog burrows normally have two entrances - a main hole, identified by a large accumulation of soil around it, and a second entrance, often hidden by vegetation. Holes and dirt mounds from groundhogs can be hazardous for horses, motorcycles, and farm equipment. Groundhogs sun themselves near the main entrance of their burrow and hunt for food in daylight. They may wander 100 to 200 feet away from their burrows.
Groundhogs feed primarily on native grasses and forbs (flowering plants), cultivated alfalfa, and clover. In urbanized and suburban locations, these animals will eat sweet corn, squash, root crops, cucumbers, and peas. A foraging family of groundhogs can clear a small vegetable garden in less than a week. Gardens close to wooded or sheltered areas are more likey to be attacked than a small garden in an open area.
Fencing can help keep groundhogs off the property, but the fence must be strong, about 4 feet tall, and buried to a depth of at least 1 foot. Trapping is the best alternative for managing this animal when it becomes a pest. Refer to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management for information on management and control of this animal.
The photograph was taken by Phil Myers, Musum of Zoology, University of Michigan, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attibution-Noncommercial-Share alike 3.0 Unported License.
The lower photograph, by MC McCullough, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, shows that woodchucks can easily make themselves at home, especially if there are no dogs around to make them skiddish.