Homeowners in North America suffer from various kinds of pests. We have always talked about the danger of insects for homeowners but we've never mentioned the serious problems caused by animals. Some big animals are also considered as pests in North America. One of these annoying destructive pests is the woodchuck.
Woodchucks are cute but only when they are out in the wild. When these pests invade houses and properties, it becomes a serious problem that needs an immediate solving.
Therefore, British settlers tried to combine between their language and the Algonquian language so this groundhog became “woodchuck”. Woodchucks are commonly found in the wild, especially in Pennsylvania, this state is well-known by its woodchucks. But the problems begin when a woodchuck invades a property.
This animal has the ability to ruin the entire backyard in a few weeks. Woodchuks are also known for their gluttonous eating. This specie can eat 3 pounds (around 1.4kg) of potatoes in 30 minutes. Groundhogs have a destructive habit and they feed on vegetables, therefore they have to be kept away from house gardens or backyards.
Physical or biological characteristics of woodchucks
As the woodchuck looks a lot like its cousin the squirrel, it has some different biological points. The woodchuck is more likely to contact humans than a squirrel. And for that, the groundhog needs special abilities to protect itself, avoid danger and guarantee its survival.
- Besides the bulky structure, the woodchuck is very flexible and moves very quickly.
- Woodchuck’s chunky body is supported by 4 little and solid legs that are barely visible. These 4 legs carry off pointed claws in order to make the digging of underground halls easier.
- The body of a woodchuck contains a bushy tail. The fur is usually, brownish gray, but there are also albino woodchucks which are white, and melanistic woodchucks which are black.
- A woodchuck’s body weight ranges from 5 to 10 pounds (around 2.2 to 4.5 kg) and some wild woodchucks can reach 14 pounds (6.3 kg).
- The groundhog's length is usually, between 16 and 20 inches (40 to 50 cm), including the tail which is 4 to 7 inches long, while some wild woodchucks can reach up to 31 inches (80 cm).
- Woodchucks’ eyes and ears are well-adapted on the top of a flat head so they can easily check for danger before getting out of the burrows. That’s why woodchucks are identified in cartoons by small eyes and ears looking out of a burrow edge.
- The woodchuck has 4 front long incisors used for cutting and eating fruits.
- A woodchuck can live from 3 to 6 years, while wild groundhogs sometimes reach 10 years..
Important things you need to know about woodchucks
The woodchuck may be a wild animal that is destructive for properties, but it turns out to be that it is also a cute pet that has many special things to tell.
Woodchucks are smart and flexible wild animals, which allows them to fit in the wilderness and co-exist with other species. There are many woodchuck predators, such as coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, wolves, bears, cougars, eagles… That’s why groundhogs face frequent danger in the wild, and are most likely to live in closed areas; that’s why they invade properties.
When a woodchuck is facing danger, it makes a sound like a whistle to alert other groundhogs. It's how it got the name “whistle pig”. This innocent animal may squeal when fighting or being injured to ask for help. Woodchucks have a very special ability: they are very good swimmers and spectacular climbers. Despite their chunky bodies, they swim really good, in order to avoid less skilled predators, or they climb to surveil their nests and check for food sources.
Woodchucks are herbivores that like to eat in the early morning or in the evening hours. This voracious animal eats 1/3 his weight daily. It has many favorite greens such as: carrot tops, beans and peas, flowers, apples, dandelions, clovers, barks, alfalfas. Sometimes they also eat insects such as: grasshoppers, termites, grabs... etc. Woodchucks don’t drink water, they replace their liquid need with the juice supplied by fruits. They can make their own juice with ice or rain water, and they don’t need to drink water.
With their curved pointed claws, woodchucks dig their own burrows to assure a safe place for sleeping and hibernating. A single burrow can reach 5 feet in depth (1.5 meters) and 30 feet in lenght (9 meters). Woodchucks are so smart that they dig complex burrow systems underground, containing many chambers such as: a chamber for sleeping, a chamber for food reserve and a toilet. There can be 2 to 4 entrances to a single burrow.
A main entrance is dug from above, so there are always soil mounds around main entrances. The second entrances are dug from below so they are hidden and hard to find. Woodchucks use secondary tunnels for protection; they can escape the burrow through them when it gets invaded. Inactive old burrows can be used by other wild animals such as rabbits, red foxes, opossums.
Groundhogs are some of the few mammals that truly hibernate in winter. To overcome the hard conditions of winter (cold temperature and fickle weather) especially the woodchucks that occupy cold areas such as Alaska, Canada and the northern United States, these wild animals use their burrows to go through a long hibernation.
The process starts in October and ends in March or April. In some temperate places, hibernation can take only 3 months until the coldness of winter is gone. As a preparation for hibernation, woodchucks eat a lot during fall (mid-September, October). They do this in order to achieve a maximum weight, which will idealy assure a safe, and long a hibernation.
Some woodchucks use secondary burrows for hibernation as the original one can be invaded, or because it's not warm enough to overcome the coldness of winter. Hibernation burrows are so deep that they are usually dug below the frost line. This way the burrows can provide a stable warm temperature for the woodchucks.
Exactly after hibernation, the reproduction season of woodchucks takes place, as they leave their nests (hibernation burrows) seeking for mates to reproduce.Female woodchucks breed in mid- or late April. The gestation period of woodchucks is 31 days in which the mated male and female occupy the same burrow.
The cycle ends by breedinga cub of 2 to 6 baby woodchucks. The usual number of newborns is 4. In a few months, the young woodchucks fit in the wilderness, and begin their own journey, digging their own burrows and seeking for food by themselves.
Relationship with animals
The groundhog is considered as the most solitary animal in the wild, it likes to live alone in its own burrow and seek for its food by itself, but some exceptions can be made such as for mating period, the mated pair has to occupy the same burrow but in general, these animals are always alone. In case of predator invasion, woodchucks reunite to fight together or to make their whistle sound to alert other woodchucks. This defensive system is found mostly in every species in the world, they protect each other to guarantee the survival of the species.
Relationship with humans
When it comes to human-woodchuck relationships, it is more complicated. Woodchucks consider humans as predators and they fear them, while humans also consider woodchucks as pests and do their best to avoid or exterminate them. It is known that woodchucks have destructive behavior and they ruin backyards very quickly, but they also like to live in closed protected areas and they dig their burrows near to structures or wire fences. The conflict happens because humans care for their gardens, and farmers do not want to lose their crops as a result of the woodchucks' gluttony.
Why are woodchucks considered as a pest in U.S.A?
With their herbivore diet and deep burrows, woodchucks can represent serious problems to homeowners or farmers. In the U.S.A, the government has considered them as pests and there are many laws that organize the treatment of woodchucks.
Woodchuck burrow systems cause a variety of agriculture problems. Mounds left beside burrow holes can harm farm machines. Also, woodchucks would ruin a whole yearly crop of fruits in a field that is invaded. Horse owners have something to say about woodchucks too, many horses get injuredby tripping over burrow holes.
If you are a homeowner and you have a beautiful garden in your backyard, you should protect it from woodchucks as much as you protect it from insects and termites. Woodchucks love garden plants as there's a variety of them and can damage an entire garden in a few weeks. Another problem are the burrows which can become a home for other animal that will munch on your beautifil flowers.
Furthermore, groundhogs like to dig their burrows in wooden areas such as house basement walls and they might end up destroying them. Woodchucks also might ruin electricity cables that run underground, as a direct result of their burrow digging. While woodchucks carry out this destructive behavior and the government considers them as pests, you need to find out how to prevent these animals from ruinning your garden.
Prevention of woodchucks
Woodchucks are smart animals that escape the wild life and inhabit suburban properties, so they can gain some safety and protection to guarantee the survival of their species. They use some smart ways to get into your property and start ruining it. However you can avoid a woodchuck invasion before it happens with the right means of prevention.
Fencing the property boundaries
The thing that woodchucks are most afraid of are “fences”. Therefore, you should fence your property boundaries before you get invaded by a woodchuck. Use a wire fence dug 3 feet underground to assure that no woodchuck could dig underneath it, and keep it as high as 3 feet so no woodchuck could climb it.
Getting a dog
If you really care about your backyard and you don’t want any plants ruined, get yourself a dog and be sure that no wild animal will get to your backyard. Woodchucks hate and fear dogs so they will never dare digging your backyard, while there's a dog around.
Eliminating attractive material
Woodchucks get attracted to fruits as they love to eat garden vegetables and also love nesting in wooden areas. Keeping firewood piles in your backyard will attract woodchucks for sure. Reap your fruit trees on time in order to have more for yourself, and less for your garden invader.
Plant Repellent Plants
Some plants like spearmint, lavender, oregano, garlic, and other repel not only woodchucks but other types of insects and animals as well. Also, pepper or curry powder can help repel woodchucks because they do do not enjoy the smell of these either.
Inspecting your property
It is important to regularly inspect your property and seek for burrow entrances that could be accompanied with soil mounds. Maintaining frequent human activity in an area will cause a potential danger to woodchucks, and they won’t occupy that particular area.
How to get rid of woodchucks
As woodchucks are considered as pests, getting rid of them is necessary and should be done very carefully and professionally. If an invasion happened and the prevention didn’t work, you cannot stay away and watch your garden get eaten by a voracious woodchuck.
Signs of identification
You have to do something to protect your plants and kick out these annoying wild animals. The identification of woodchucks may be hard, as they are smart animals and they get out of their burrows only in the early morning and in evening hours.
Woodchucks leave easily identifiable foot tracks, 5 toes on the front foot and 4 toes on the back foot, with a total length of 4 to 5 inches both. These tracks are usually deep in the ground, as the woodchuck claws are pointed.
Seeing the feeding damage caused by woodchucks on a garden plant is easy. A ¼ inch tooth marks on a fruit or a vegetable and sometimes the lower area of a tree trunk, doesn’t need a hard work to be recognized. This is a clear sing of a woodchuck invasion.
When woodchucks dig their burrows, they leave soil mounds beside the entrances and these mounds are easily recognizable.
Several ways to get rid of or repel woodchucks
Woodchucks could safely be exterminated by bait traps. It is so easy; you just buy a groundhog trap such as Havahart® X-Large 1-Door Trap for only $75, Havahart® Large 1-Door Easy Set® Trap for only $57 and then place the bait inside it. The best baits used to trap woodchucks are cantaloupes, which get cut to cubic small pieces. You first put some pieces around the burrow entrance and a trap 3 feet away from it and the trap will automatically close on the woodchuck so it can be exterminated.
Some chemical repellents with shrill odor could be used to repel woodchucks. Products like Critter Ridder® Animal Repellent Granular which is a granular chemical substance costs only $10 or Critter Ridder® Animal Repellent Ready To Use Spray- 32 Oz which is liquid for the price of $24. When put in the burrow entrance these substances will make the woodchuck leave immediately because of the strong repulsive scent.
Some electronic repellents which send ultrasonic magnetic waves could be put near the woodchuck burrows. These materials could drive the animal crazy and force him to leave their nest. This way is not as efficient as others but it is the safest. It protects your property and even the woodchuck, so the treatment may remain humane. As cited above, the repellents used to get rid of woodchucks in this article are for humane use, some other ways could be followed to exterminate woodchucks forever, such as shooting them, sealing their burrows with fumigants or toxicants… etc.
Preserve Landscapes and Gardens by Discouraging Deer, Woodchucks and Rabbits – Michigan State University
Ground Hog Management – NeverPest
Problem Wildlife in the Garden and Yard – National Pesticide Information Center
Woodchuck Droppings Identification Guide – NeverPest
Non-Chemical Control of Woodchucks – Montana State University
Managing Woodchuck Problems in Missouri – University of Missouri
Dealing with Woodchuck Damage – University of New Hampshire