This is Ground Hog Day, and it seems like Iowa’s already had a six-week delay in winter’s arrival. Whether the hairy animal sees its shadow today or not may be a cute legend in determining spring’s arrival, but one Iowa wildlife expert says the ground hog’s forecasting “abilities” are actually rooted in fact. Some ground hogs come out of hibernation in late February — it’s simply one of the first mammals to awaken from its winter slumber. Lewis Major is a Polk County naturalist who gave a talk this week in Des Moines to school kids about ground hogs. In preparing his speech, he says he learned a lot about the chubby brown creatures, which go by another name in these parts. He says the ground hog, a-k-a “woodchuck” is a rodent in the same family as squirrels.Major says the word “woodchuck” likely originated in a Native American word for the furry rodent. He says ground hogs do the environment a good service when they dig their extensive homes — a system of underground tunnels.It can dig its chamber in a single day and move up to 700 pounds of dirt in that day. He says that helps to aerate the soil and mix nutrients which is good for the environment, even if it doesn’t look appealing in your yard.
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