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Is This The Biggest SQUIRREL in Illinois?!

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

You may know them from the popular tongue twister “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” or you may curse Punxsutawney Phil when he declares six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day. But, did you know, these rodents are technically the largest squirrels in Illinois?!

Woodchuck at Headquarters Forest Preserve (Rockford, IL)

Woodchucks, Groundhogs, Squirrels, Oh My!

Like squirrels, woodchucks (also known as groundhogs) can climb trees, but prefer to spend the majority of their lives with their paws on, and under, the ground. Woodchucks live in underground burrows, usually with multiple entrances and chambers. Woodchucks are obligate hibernators and typically go into hibernation when the temperatures start to cool throughout October and November. They will emerge around February and March, just in time for mating season.

Although their burrows can be quite elaborate, woodchucks are solitary critters and prefer to live alone. The only time you may see two woodchucks together is during mating season in the spring. Woodchucks will have a litter of four to five pups in April. After about 2 months, the pups will ditch their family burrow and go off on their own.

Woodchucks have also earned the nickname “Whistle Pig”, due to the harsh whistle they use to warn their fellow pigs of any danger. Woodchucks are territorial, so they will chatter their teeth and whistle to ward off unwanted intruders.

Woodchucks are usually easy to identify. They are stocky animals with flat muzzles, small heads with small, round ears. Woodchucks’ fur color can range from gray-brown to blackish. They have short legs and a bushy tail. If you see a large potato-looking rodent munching on some grass, you’re probably looking at a woodchuck.

Are woodchucks beneficial to the environment?

Although woodchucks are commonly thought of as a nuisance, they do contribute to soil health. As they dig their burrows, they move large amounts of dirt, which helps mix and aerate the soil. Go Whistle Pigs!

Woodchuck at Headquarters Forest Preserve (Rockford, IL)

Fast Facts

The average lifespan of woodchucks is approximately three years.

Woodchucks are herbivores that like to eat grasses, flowers, berries, and tree bark.

With a nickname like “Whistle Pig”, you may be surprised to learn that woodchucks are not on the top of the food chain.

Larger animals like coyote, fox, bobcats, and hawks prey on woodchucks.

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