Published on Fri, 01/26/2018 by Nature Conservancy of Canada

This Groundhog Day, it’s all relatives

February 2 marks Groundhog Day, a North American tradition dating back to 1888. The groundhog, also called the woodchuck, is the largest member of the squirrel family and one of four marmot species that live in Canada. Rather than just focusing on groundhogs this year, here are some fascinating facts about these rodents and some of their close relatives:

Groundhog (Photo by Cephas/Wikimedia Commons)Groundhog

The groundhog is the most widespread marmot and can be found from Nova Scotia to Yukon. Despite their name, groundhogs don’t just restrict themselves to the ground; they can also climb trees and swim. Nicknamed whistle-pigs, groundhogs make peculiar noises, including a loud whistle when alarmed, a squeal when fighting or hurt, tooth grinding when cornered and barking. Some of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) properties provide habitat for groundhogs, including Happy Valley Forest in Ontario.

Yellow-bellied marmot

Yellow-bellied marmots, also known as rock chucks, can be found at high elevations in the mountains of southern BC. Parents act aggressively toward their young in order to drive them out of the colony once they’ve reached sexual maturity. A small yellow-bellied marmot colony inhabits the Rattlesnake Bluffs conservation area in BC.

Richardson's ground squirrel (Photo by NCC)Richardson’s ground squirrel

The Richardson’s ground squirrel occurs in grasslands in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. It has been sighted on several NCC properties in Saskatchewan, namely the Edenwold Complex, Mortlach, Upper Whitesand 2, Buffalo Valley and Wideview Complex. Females are fertile for just two to three hours on one afternoon of one day each year. During this short period, each female mates with multiple males.

Black-tailed prairie dog

Black-tailed prairie dogs are highly social, living in large colonies called towns, which have hundreds to millions of individuals. Every colony shares a complex burrow network, often covering around 250 acres (100 hectares) or more. Sadly, this cute rodent has been assessed as threatened in Canada. Black-tailed prairie dogs have been sighted on NCC’s Wideview property in Saskatchewan.

Eastern chipmunk

Like many other squirrel family members, eastern chipmunks make various alarm and defensive calls, such as low chucks and repeated high-pitched chirps, trills and chatters. Some research suggests that this species may use different calls for different predators.

American red squirrel

American red squirrels can be found in every province and territory, and have been sighted on some of NCC’s properties, including Happy Valley Forest in Ontario. They gather between 2,000 and 4,000 pine cones and store them in middens (piles), which may be used by multiple generations. Believe it or not, these small squirrels sometimes eat young birds, mice and rabbits. Some have even been observed biting into maple trees to get at the sap inside. 


For more information, visit


groundhog_photo_by_cephas-wikimedia_commons.jpgGroundhog (Photo by Cephas-Wikimedia Commons) (JPG)2.15 MB
richardsons_ground_squirrel_photo_by_ncc.jpgRichardsons ground squirrel (Photo by NCC) (JPG)2.3 MB