Don Linzey & Christy Brecht
Wytheville Community College
Wytheville, Virginia 24382
- Adult total length:
22 - 27 in. (550 - 675 mm)
4 - 7 in. (100 - 175 mm)
- Hind foot:
2 3/8 - 3 7/8 in. (62 - 98 mm)
5 - 10 lbs. (2.25 - 4.50 kg)
The short-legged woodchuck is a large, stocky rodent with a
broad, flattened head, a blunt nose, and a medium-length tail.
It is the largest member of its family in the park. Also
known as "groundhog" and "whistle-pig", the woodchuck has
long, coarse yellowish-brown to brown fur that has a grizzled
or slightly frosted appearance because of the presence of
whitish, buff, or cinnamon-colored hairs. Whitish areas are
present on the sides of the face, nose, lips, and chin. The
feet are dark brown to black. The flattened tail is furred and
varies in color from black to dark brown. The underparts are
whitish-buff to brownish.
left lateral view of
skull and mandible
dorsal view of skull
ventral view of skull
The woodchuck ranges from central Alabama and southeastern Oklahoma northward
east of the central grasslands into Canada and westward nearly across Canada
north of the grasslands.
||Mice, rats, hamsters, etc.
||Woodchucks, chipmunks, and squirrels
The woodchuck is a semifossorial occupant of forest borders, favoring the edge
of brushy woodland, especially along fields, roads, and streams. Burrows are
constructed beneath rocks, stumps, building foundations, or other supportive
structures. Woodchucks use burrows to spend the night, to escape from predators
and inclement conditions, to raise young, and to hibernate over winter.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Woodchucks have been seen in the park from the lowest elevations
up to approximately 6,300 feet (Linzey, 1995b
). They are most abundant in the open meadowlands and along
the mowed roadsides at the lower elevations and are rare in dense
forests and in the spruce-fir region. Woodchucks are less
plentiful now than formerly due to the ecological changes
occurring as the park reverts to a more forested condition.
- Blount Co.:
Cades Cove (1,750 feet).
- Sevier Co.:
Park headquarters (1,500 feet); Greenbrier (2,000
- 2,200 feet); Fighting Creek Gap (2,500 feet);
Sugarlands (2,500 feet); Newfound Gap Road (2,500
feet; 3,000 feet); Mt. LeConte (6,593 feet).
- State (Tenn. - N.C.) line:
Collins Gap (5,700 feet).
- Haywood Co.:
Black Camp Gap (4,522 feet); Little Bald Knob.
- Swain Co.:
Smokemont; Deep Creek; Newfound Gap Road; Bunches Creek;
Three Forks; Clingmans Dome Road (6,100 feet); Forney
Ridge (6,300 feet).
Woodchucks breed at one year of age. Mating occurs in March and April
and gestation is about 30 days. A single litter of young per year are
produced with sizes ranging from two to nine, but usually consists of
three to five. Young are born naked, blind, and helpless. They are
weaned at six weeks and begin to wander from the natal burrow and live
by themselves shortly after that.
Woodchucks have been known to live five to six years in the wild.
- Terrestrial Ecology
Woodchucks are solitary and are most active in early morning and late
afternoon. They dig their own burrows, each of which may have as many as
five entrances. Abandoned burrows, or burrows containing a hibernating
woodchuck, may be used by snakes, opossums, cottontails, skunks, weasels,
foxes, and other wildlife.
Woodchucks have excellent eyesight and are able to climb trees in order
to escape an enemy. When startled, a woodchuck will give a loud, shrill
whistle; hence the name "whistle pig".
By the end of summer, woodchucks have become very fat in preparation for
hibernation. Although active woodchucks have been recorded in the park
during every month, most enter hibernation. Entrance into hibernation is
apparently caused by decreasing daylength. A hibernating woodchuck is
coiled into a tight ball with the head resting on its lower abdomen and
the hind parts and tail wrapped over the head. During this deep sleep,
respiration and heartbeat are greatly decreased, and body temperature is
considerably lower than when the animal was active. In general, the
metabolic rate of animals in hibernation is between 1/30 and 1/100 of the
"resting" metabolic rate of non-hibernating animals. During hibernation,
the breathing rate may be reduced to only one breath every five or six
minutes, while the woodchuck's heartbeats may be as few as three beats per
minute, in contrast to the normal rate of 80 to 95 beats per minute.
Rectal temperature reaches a low of 3°C(38°F)
during hibernation, while the normal summer reading is 32°C(90°F).
Woodchucks feed primarily on grasses, clover, alfalfa, wheat, corn, soybeans,
and berries. Bark may occasionally be consumed. In the park, they have been
observed feeding on clover (Komarek and Komarek, 1938)
and on the bark of the silverbell tree (Halesia carolina) (Fleetwood, 1934).
The bacterial enterococcus Streptococcus faecalis has been recorded from
fecal specimens by Mundt (1963).
- Predators and Defense
Although woodchucks are well protected by their alertness and their
burrows, some are taken by bobcats, bears, foxes, weasels, and
rattlesnakes. Stupka (1938) found a woodchuck
that had recently been killed by a bobcat (Lynx rufus) above
Big Cove (3,200 feet), an area just outside the park boundary. Many
woodchucks are killed be automobiles.
None recorded from the park.
Links to Other Sites
- Special Protection Status
- In Park:
All plants and animals are protected within
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Collection requires a permit which is usually
granted only for
research or educational purposes.
- Map development
- Web page design & coding
- Denise Lim, University of Georgia, Athens
- John Pickering, University of Georgia, Athens
Fleetwood, R. J. 1934 - 35.
Journal of Raymond J. Fleetwood, wildlife technician, Great
Smoky Mountains National Park, for the period May 27, 1934 -
June 27, 1935. 499 pp. (Typewritten).
Komarek, E. V. and R. Komarek. 1938.
Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bulletin of the Chicago
Academy of Sciences 5 (6): 137 - 162.
Linzey, D. W. 1995a.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Blacksburg,
Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Linzey, D. W. 1995b.
Mammals of Great Smoky Mountains National Park-1995 Update.
Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society 111(1):1-81.
Linzey, D. W. 1998.
The Mammals of Virginia. Blacksburg, Virginia: The
McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Inc.
Mundt, J. O. 1963.
Occurrence of enterococci in animals in a wild environment.
Applied Microbiology 11: 136 - 140.
Stupka, A. 1935 - 63.
Nature Journal, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 28 vols.
(years) each with index. (Typewritten copy in files of Great
Smoky Mountains National Park library).
Svendsen, G.E. 1999.
Woodchuck. Pages 398 - 399. In: D.E. Wilson, and S. Ruff (eds.).
The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington,
D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Taylor, C. A. 1979.
The density, distribution, and activity patterns of woodchucks
in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Master's
thesis, University of Tenn., Knoxville, TN.
Last modified: 8 May, 2002