Woodchuck

Marmota monax bunkeri Black

 

 

Description:   The woodchuck is the largest member of the squirrel family in Kansas, and can be distinguished by: 10 heavy-set, low-slung body, 2) relatively short but bushy tail, 3) short, powerful legs, 4) broad, short head with small, rounded, inconspicuous ears, 5) rather coarse pelage with reddish-brown upperparts grizzled with grayish- and yellowish-tipped guard hairs, 6) brown to black tail, legs and feet, and 7) black face. males are larger than females, but are the same color. Young show less intense color than adults. Incisor teeth are ever-growing and must be continually worn down or feeding impairment results.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 543-654 mm; tail 102-189 mm; hind foot 83-96 mm; ear 27-37 mm; weight 2.3-5.4 kilograms.

Range and Habitat:   The woodchuck lives in eastern Kansas on dry soils at the edges of forests and brushy woodlands, or on rocky outcrops associate with forests and grasslands.

Reproduction:   Adult woodchucks (two years old or older), and some young females born the previous spring, mate in March and early April shortly after emergence from hibernation. After a gestation period of 30-32 days, two to nine young (generally four or five) are born hairless and wrinkled, with their eyes closed. In one month short hair is present and the eyes open. In about a month and a half the young woodchucks are weaned and begin foraging outside the den; in two months they are capable of independent existence. Full size is attained in two years. Females have four pairs of nipples.

Habits:   The woodchuck is most frequently encountered in early morning or late afternoon a momentary glimpse of a stocky animal galloping low along the ground, mostly concealed by shrubs or ground vegetation. A closer examination will reveal trails that lead to a den site where one or two holes mark the entrance to underground tunnels and a nesting chamber. The most characteristic feature of a woodchuck denning site is a large accumulation of soil at the mouth of the hole. The soil is generally freshly deposited and shows a considerable number of tracks. This elevated mound of soil has been removed by the woodchuck from the subterranean chambers and serves to deflect rain from burrow as well as providing a place to bask or watch for predators. Tunnels six to nine meters in length lead to the nesting and hibernation chambers. Lateral to the main corridor are tunnels that lead to the surface. The openings are generally hidden among shrubs or grasses and they lack telltale accumulations of soil found at the main entrance. These holes are used as escape routes whenever the conspicuous front entrance is entered by a predator. A nest is in one of the enlarged chambers and is lined with dry vegetation. Denning sites are generally in dry soft soils on slopes, under roots of dead trees, or within a crevass in a rock outcrop. Holes and tunnels made by woodchucks are used by a host of smaller mammals including rabbits, skunks, weasels, mice, opossums, and woodrats, and other larger mammals enlarge them for their own dens.

  The woodchuck is a wary and reclusive animal. When undisturbed it often reclines or sits erect on the dirt mound at the entrance of its burrow. It is always attentive, and frequently uses sight and smell to survey the surrounding countryside. When foraging in the vicinity of its den, the woodchuck moves slowly with a waddling gait, feet spread wide and the belly almost touching the ground. It climbs smaller trees in search for food or simply to rest and sun itself. It is capable of producing several calls, including a loud shrill whistle, but calls are not frequent unless the woodchuck is disturbed. It drinks water from streams and pools a well as deriving water from plants and dew.

  Hibernation is a regular and time-consuming activity of the woodchuck. In autumn, after accumulating a thick store of fat, it moves into is nest cavity and plugs the entrance. It curls up in its nest and in a short time its respiration, body temperature, and heart beat decrease to a fraction of normal summer rates. In spring it emerges, have lost from a third to half of its body weight. After rearing its young, the woodchuck again starts to accumulate fat for hibernation the following winter.

Food:   The food of woodchucks is principally grasses, green plants, and foliage of native trees. They also feed upon domestic crops.

Remarks:   The principal natural enemies of woodchucks are the red fox, coyote, bobcat, eagles large hawks and owls. Longevity of this rodent is from five to six years. Its burrow system is its defense; once lodged in it the woodchuck is almost impossible to dislodge. It will grind its teeth, fight ferociously, and call in a high-pitched squeal.


Return to the Mammals of Kansas index page.