Photo by Stephen Zacharias licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Groundhogs Know Best?
Every February 2nd, all eyes are on the largest member of the squirrel family, the groundhog. Not surprising – it’s Groundhog Day, the annual holiday that’s predicts the arrival of spring. Early morning festivals are held across North America to see if the groundhog spots its shadow when it emerges from its burrow. According to tradition, if a groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six weeks more of winter. And if it doesn’t, it’s a sign that an early spring is on the way.
Groundhog Day has its roots in Germany, where people watched badgers come out of hibernation so they could predict winter weather and decide when to begin planting crops. The custom was brought to Pennsylvania by German settlers in the 1800s. However, since badgers weren’t common in the region, the groundhog became the animal trusted to give the weather forecast.
It turns out groundhogs aren’t the best at predicting when spring will arrive though. A Canadian study looked at Groundhog Day predictions from the past 30 years and found that they were only right about 37% of the time.
Meet a Groundhog... Or Four
This groundhog lives in a wildlife park in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Each year, Sam is the first rodent to make a Groundhog Day prediction in North America. Funnily enough, Sam doesn’t pop out of a burrow to search for his shadow. He lives in his own small, heated home in the park.
Staten Island Chuck
While his proper name is Charles G. Hogg, locals know this groundhog as Staten Island Chuck. He resides in the Staten Island Zoo in New York City and has been part of Groundhog Day celebrations since 1981. Of course, even a groundhog needs a break. So Chuck recently retired, and his daughter Charlotte will take over his Groundhog Day duties this year.
Willie is the only albino groundhog to take part in Groundhog Day festivities. Found in the Ontario town of Wiarton, Willie is a major star around his parts. About 10,000 people turn up on February 2nd to celebrate the day with Willie. Once he makes his prediction, the fun kicks into high gear with a pancake breakfast, dances, parades, and sleigh rides.
Phil lives in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Legend has it that he makes his winter prediction in a language called “Groundhogese.” Apparently, Phil “speaks” to one of his caregivers, who translates the groundhog’s weather forecast for all the world to hear.