Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
Large, stocky, burrowing member of the squirrel family with gray all over, a rusty underside, and a bushy tail
Length: 12-18 in.
Weight: 7-10 lbs.
Range: much of the eastern U.S. and Canada northwest to central Alaska
Diet: a variety of herbs, grasses, and sometimes bark, leaves, insects, and bird eggs
Mating: Occurs shortly after emerging from hibernation in spring (varies by latitude), give birth 31-32 days later to 1-9 offspring
Life Expectancy: 4-6 years, often only 1-3.
If you ever see a large, beaver-sized rodent foraging in a pasture, you might actually be observing a Woodchuck, or Groundhog. They are such a well-known and widespread creature, yet they often go unnoticed in our daily lives. Unlike Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, they are solitary rodents. They dig complex burrow systems at forest edges, in pastures, on mowed lawns, and even under buildings.
Woodchuck dwellings have even been found under structures on the Carleton campus! Though they prefer open spaces, they are not prairie animals. Most of their range in fact overlaps with forest and woodland. They seem to specialize in colonizing areas where fire, human activity, geology, or grazing have created small patches of open land or brush in the midst of deciduous forest. Roadsides also provide good habitat, with a slope prime for digging burrows and vegetation arranged by height, from clover to taller grass to brush.
On campus, a woodchuck currently lives in the gulley to the left of the path between Lyman Lakes and the Recreation Center, which gives you a sense of the forest edge habitat that they prefer. However, young woodchucks range widely to find new territories every year, so a sighting in most Arb habitats is possible in the warm season. Walk softly by an open meadow on a cool spring morning (they are mostly active at dawn and dusk) and you might meet one!