What Does a Groundhog Eat? - Woodchuck Diet
Groundhogs (Marmota monax) are mainly herbivorous animals, but their diet does include some animal-based food. Whether this makes them truly herbivorous animals is something which has resulted in some debate. Also known as the woodchuck, groundpig and many other common names depending on region and preference, the woodchuck is a type of marmot. These are rodents from the family Sciuridae. They have terrestrial habits and are known to hibernate in the winter. Even during their active summer periods, they will sleep a lot of the day. When they are not asleep, they forage for their food before returning to their underground burrows.
At AnimalWised, we ask what does a groundhog eat? We explain the woodchuck diet by looking at what groundhogs eta on the average day, considering both adult and baby woodchucks.
Groundhogs are relatively large rodents. They live in open areas and generally have lighter colored fur than marmots that live in wooded areas. However, there are also woodchucks with darker fur in the wild. Their weight and size can vary greatly, measuring anywhere between 0.4 to 0.7 meters (1.3 to 2.2 feet) and weighing from as little as 2 kg (4.4 lb) or as much as 12 kg (26.4 lb). The latter only occurs in very rare occasions.
These rodents are closely related to squirrels. Despite squirrels being animals that live mainly in trees, they both have similar diets in terms of the food they eat. Due to the fact they live in climates which can be quite harsh at certain times of the year, groundhogs will need to store up food reserves for hibernation. Marmots like the groundhog carry out true hibernation, digging special burrows further underground to ensure warmth.
Learn about whether a squirrel hibernates during the winter with our related article.
Are groundhogs herbivores?
Since groundhogs mainly eat plant matter, they are considered by many to be a type of herbivorous mammal. However, this is not strictly true. Due to the aforementioned harsh climactic conditions of their natural habitat, it is known that groundhogs will eat food derived from animals. These are usually in the form of small invertebrates such as snails and grasshoppers. They are also known to eat animal eggs and even small birds in rare occasions.
As they have a diet which includes animal-based food, groundhogs are omnivores. Although they mainly eat plant material to survive, the fact that they can gain sustenance and nutrition from animals means they are not strictly herbivorous. They are not considered as omnivorous as many other marmot species.
What do baby groundhogs eat?
The gestation period for groundhogs lasts around 32 days. After this time, they give birth to at least two young, but they can have up to six. Baby marmots are born altricial, meaning they are unable to look after themselves. They require their mother to carry out basic functions such as feeding. They are blind for the first month of life and will start to emerge from their burrow around another month after they gain sight.
As these rodents are mammals, baby groundhogs will drink their mother's milk for survival. Breast milk is essential for the development of these animals. They will start to be weaned onto solid food at about 6 weeks of age and will be full weaned at around 9 weeks. After this time they will start to feed on their own and go out looking for food. Some groundhogs can leave their mother in as short a time as 2 months and build their own burrow.
Learn about groundhog hibernation and sleep patterns with our article on whether groundhogs sleep at night.
What do adult groundhogs eat?
As we have explained, once they have stopped drinking their mother's milk, groundhogs will start to eat solid food. The woodchuck diet mainly consists of plant matter which they find from scavenging and foraging on the ground.
What the groundhog will eat largely depends on what is available in their given habitat. In certain areas, there may be an abundance of vegetation, leading to a more diverse groundhog diet. Whatever the diversity of their habitat, groundhogs are known for eating grasses and forbs. Forbs are herbaceous flowering plants which do not include grass. Examples include clover, begonias and mallows.
Another important factor is human settlements. Many groundhogs live near to agricultural areas with various crops. Since they are able to burrow underneath the ground, they are easily able to access many agricultural areas and feed on various crops available.
With this in mind, we look at the main diet of adult groundhogs. The foods they likely consume include the following:
- Grasses and forbs: it should be no surprise that groundhogs eat food that is close to the ground. This makes plants like grasses and forbs particularly important for their diet. Clover is a particularly popular staple of their diet since it often grows in abundance within their natural habitat.
- Leaves and stems: groundhogs will make the most of any plant available, eating the leaves, stems and even flowers of many different plants.
- Fruits and berries: although grasses and other herbaceous plants are the greater part of their diet, they will feed seasonally on certain fruits and berries. These include blackberries, raspberries, apples and other fruits found in their natural habitat.
- Vegetables: it is not easy for groundhogs to find many vegetables in their natural habitat, but they will eat them if they come across them. This is often when they discover them in gardens.
- Tree bark: tree bark will not be a preferred food for the groundhog. However, they can gain nutrients from gnawing on tree bark, something which is especially helpful in winter or other times of food scarcity.
- Tubers and roots: since they are known for digging, they will also eat vegetables like carrots and potatoes from the ground. They use their strong claws to dig up plants and will also eat the roots where possible.
- Seeds: groundhogs will eat seeds found in other plants. This is very important for their ecosystem since their consumption of seeds helps to disperse these plant species through their feces and other feeding habits of groundhogs
- Crops: as we have stated, woodchucks will eat crops from human agricultural developments.
The consumption of crops and other food from human settlements has made the groundhog a pest to many people, especially farmers. Groundhogs are considered to be of ‘Least Concern’ when it comes to conservation. Their often large populations means farmers will set barriers or even traps to protect their crops.
How much does a groundhog eat per day?
As we have already stated, groundhogs are animals which carry out true hibernation. In some cases, this hibernation period can last as long as 8 months in a winter burrow. Groundhogs typically hibernate from fall to spring, but they can sleep for longer, especially during periods of very low temperature. This is something which is often affected by climate change since their habitats can be colder for longer.
When a groundhog is in their hibernation period they undergo a process called torpor. This is similar to sleep, but even more profound. Their body-s metabolism slows down almost to a complete stop. They use fat reserves to survive the long winter period without wasting away completely. They gain this fat by eating as much as they can during the periods of abundance before hibernation.
Once the groundhog does emerge from their state of torpor, their fat reserves will be depleted. They often look noticeably thinner and will have a serious appetite. They will start to eat again to regain body mass and get the energy to live another year.
With this in mind, how much a groundhog eats in a day will differ greatly according to time of year. In the winter, their state of torpor means they will not consume any food. Once they emerge, their appetite will lead them to eat more. They will also eat more during the period before hibernation when they are storing food.
During times when they are not hibernating, we can say they eat an average of a 1/2 lb (225 g) of food per day. However, this fluctuates according to other factors such as size, age, health and more.
If you want to read similar articles to What Does a Groundhog Eat? - Woodchuck Diet, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.
- The Animal Diversity Web. Marmota monax. Retrieved from: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Marmota_monax/