Monday, February 1, 2010

Getting "Psyched" about Groundhog Day

"Real" American style groundhogs (Marmota monax), AKA woodchucks, live "back East," and are the closest thing to the European hedgehog that German immigrants could find with which to carry on an ancient European tradition. There are many places on the world-wide-web to find out more than you want to know about the tradition. Here's a little California-style trivia. The infamous Punxsatawny Phil of Pennsylvania[ is the name of a series of captive groundhogs, much like the many Lassies] is pulled out of his comfortable habitat in order to see if he can see his shadow. If so, there will theoretically be another 6 weeks of winter. If not, there will be an early spring. Problem is, according to the US Weather Service, Phil is only about 40% accurate!
Here in California the closest relative we have to Phil is known as the yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris). Since they usually live above 6,500' in elevation, and those heights are now under several feet of snow, I don't think we'll be seeing any tomorrow. So, I figure if I just step outside I'll either see my own shadow or not. Forecast, at this hour, is "mostly cloudy and 40% chance of rain." I'm sure that somewhere in its range the yellow-bellied marmot will have a sunny day and elsewhere it will be raining or snowing. So, where does that leave us?
I guess we just decide whether it's fun to play this game, vicariously if we don't live near Phil, or decide, like PETA, that it's cruel to use the groundhog in this manner and campaign to have the celebration stopped!
I'll leave you with a little more trivia - since I don't yet have a photo of a marmot. Marmots are rodents, in the squirrel family, Sciurridae, and they are one of three types of very large rodents we have in the USA, the other two being beavers and nutria, the latter being non-native. A story I've heard many times, but never verified, is that the person responsible for importing the first nutria to the USA was one E. I. McIlhenny of Tabasco(c) fame. He evidently imported them in order to start a fur business. However, they loved Louisiana so much they reproduced like crazy and have been a problem ever since. Just ask the native muskrats!
I've written in my journal "as soon as the snow melts this spring, go up to the top of Mt. Hough where marmots abound and take some pictures." Look for them here toward the end of May (pessimistic) or mid-June (optimistic) if we have a good snow pack.

No comments:

Post a Comment