60-Second Science

Groundhog Day Really About Whether He'll Find Mate

When Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out on February 2, he's less interested in meteorology than in matrimony.

February 2, 2007 -- Groundhog Day Really About Whether He’ll Find Mate

According to legend and virtually every TV station in the country, today groundhogs stick their furry little heads out of the cold winter ground, and look around to see if winter is over.  But wait - a couple of years ago a Penn State researcher took the radical step of observing the groundhogs to see what’s really on their minds when they peruse their surroundings this day.  The researcher studied 32 of the chunky rodents, and found out that the first groundhogs to pop up after a roughly four-month hibernation are all males. And they're not checking the weather.  No, they're looking for female groundhogs, in sort of an exercise in speed dating.  Remember, it's usually really cold in Pennsylvania in February.  So the male critters mark territory, go on a few quick trial dates - and then go back to sleep for another month.  Hey, in freezing temperatures, you woodchuck being awake too.  Weeks later, the groundhogs wake up when it warms up, reconnect with their February valentines, start little groundhog families, and live Happily Ever After.  Just like in the movies.  (Clip from movie Groundhog Day: “Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t don’t forget your booties, ‘cause it’s cold out there today!”)

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