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Punxsutawney Phil and Groundhog Day, explained

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What is Groundhog Day and why have we looked to these large hibernating rodents for meteorological advice at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every February 2nd since 1887?

This Business Insider video from 2018 offers a helpful summary, revealing their take on the tradition’s origins, the groundhog‘s biological responses during hibernation, and Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction accuracy rate with only a few movie clips.

Spoiler: Unfortunately, flipping a coin may be more accurate. Some quick history from the video:

The tradition comes from Germany. On an old religious holiday called “Candlemas Day,” the Germans paid attention to the badger. Candlemas Day was the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. If the badger saw its shadow, it meant a “second winter” was coming.

When the practice came to the US in 1887, the groundhog was chosen, because badgers aren’t native to eastern North America. While it may seem random, there is some logic to turning to the groundhog for weather predictions.

Like badgers, groundhogs, also known as woodchucks or whistlepigs, are considered “true hibernators.” When they emerge from hibernation, it means winter is almost over…

hibernating groundhogThe name “whistle-pig” comes from the high-pitched sounds that they make. Smithsonian National Museum curator of mammals Richard Thorington remarked that groundhogs (Marmota monax) are “giant ground squirrels” in 10 facts you didn’t know about groundhogs from National Geographic. Also:

Surprisingly, the name woodchuck doesn’t have anything to do with wood. It’s thought to be a corruption of the Native American words wejack, woodshaw, or woodchoock. It may have its roots in the Algonquian (or perhaps Narragansett) name for the animal: wuchak.

According to Tufts, “young groundhogs are called kits, pups, or sometimes chucklings.”

Punxsutawney Phil
Watch more videos about rodents, traditions, and winter.

Plus, learn more about hibernation with this video: What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?

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