Real life for a hometown groundhog

Greta, the resident groundhog at Chimney Rock Park, is moody, bossy … and amazingly accurate at predicting both weather and Super Bowl outcomes.

Emily Walker, education manager at Chimney Rock State Park, doesn’t mince her words when it comes to Greta, the park’s 14-pound woodchuck. “Greta is moody and likes to be in charge,” says Walker. “She definitely rules the roost.”

Greta joined the Animal Discovery Den’s “critter crew” — a menagerie of black rat snakes, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, and Eastern chipmunks — in 2009, not long after an angry gardener rendered her motherless. Since she was raised by wildlife rehabilitators, Greta must now live out her days in captivity. “I tell little kids that she never learned how to be a woodchuck,” explains Walker. “She depends on people to survive.”

In anticipation of Groundhog Day, when Greta will predict spring’s arrival or winter’s prolonged stay, Walker gave Bold Life the 411 on life in and out of the burrow.

Tell us more about Greta. What is her personality like compared to other woodchucks?
Well, we’ve only had one other groundhog, Grady. Sadly, he had lymphoma and passed away. But when Grady was still around, he was subservient to Greta — Greta wore the pants. She also loves to climb and, of course, to dig. Groundhogs are incredible little diggers. They move hundreds of pounds of dirt per day. Oh, and she loves sweet corn.

What does your job as a groundhog handler entail?
Taking care of Greta is much like taking care of a pet. She has to go to the vet. She has to be fed a balanced, organic diet because groundhogs are sensitive to herbicides. She gets her weight checked each week which, I can tell you, is fat. She’s gearing up for the winter.

Speaking of the winter, does she hibernate?
In the wild, groundhogs dig a winter den below the frost line. Then, they conk out for months. In captivity, that doesn’t happen. Greta gets very groggy and sleeps hard for hours on end, but she doesn’t go into full hibernation.

Come February, does she try her paw at predicting the future?
Yes, each year we have a Groundhog Day event. Basically, if she sees her shadow, there’ll be six more weeks of winter. If she doesn’t, there’ll be an early spring. Some people believe it’s often overcast when it’s more spring-like and sunny if it’s cold. Greta guessed the winner of the Super Bowl last year, too. She got both correct.

Any last-minute groundhog facts?
Groundhogs are just squirrels [both are part of the rodent family Sciuriedae]. A groundhog and a woodchuck are the same thing, and they don’t eat wood. To warn of danger, they do a high-pitched whistle sound. That’s where they get the nickname “whistle pig.” Finally … there are tons of ways to protect your gardens from tunneling groundhogs. We can all coexist.

Chimney Rock State Park will host its 13th annual Groundhog Day Celebration on Friday, February 2, from 10am-12pm in the Meadows area. Admission is $13 per adult and $6 per child. For more information, call 800-277-9611 or visit chimneyrockpark.com.

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