Groundhog Day

Perhaps it’s a stretch to call this a conservation event—but Groundhog Day, celebrated on February 2, makes this humble rodent one of the most famous of wildlife species.

Groundhog (photo by April King)

Groundhog Day has a long history, connected to both pagan and Christian traditions.  In Christian tradition, February 2, the 40th day after Christmas, is Candlemas.  Candlemas represents the day on which Jesus was taken to the temple to be blessed, following Judaic practice to take infant males to temple on the 40th day of their birth.

The tradition was continued in the protestant faiths as a time to take candles to the church to be blessed for the remainder of the winter.  Judging how many candles needed to be taken for blessing became an early form of weather prediction.  The basic idea is that the remainder of the winter will have weather the opposite of what occurs on February 2.  An early English rhyme described the situation:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.

Before groundhogs, Germans used Europoean hedgehogs to predict weather (photo by Gaudette)

In Germany, the foretelling became associated with the hedgehog, a small, common and innocuous mammal of Europe, Asia and Africa that rolls into a ball when threatened.  Hedgehogs—all 17 species of them—carry sharp quills on their backs that provide defense, especially when a hedgehog rolls into a ball.

When German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, they continued the tradition of predicting the weather on February 2.  However, with no hedgehogs around, they turned to a common North American rodent, the groundhog, as their weather forecaster.  The original, and still most famous groundhog, is Punxsutawney Phil, who lives at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  His first prediction, and the first officially recorded Groundhog Day, occurred there in 1887.

Since then, of course, many communities have their own versions of weather-predicting groundhogs.  A notable example is Shubernacadie Sam, resident at the Shubernacadie Provincial Wildlife Park on the Canadian island of Nova Scotia.  Because Nova Scotia is on Atlantic Time, Shubernacadie Sam is up and predicting an hour before Punxsutawney Phil.

Punxutawney Phil makes his prediction on February 2, 2018 (photo by Chris Fook)

Are these groundhogs reliable?  Not so much.  According to stormfax.com, Punxsutawney Phil has been correct 39% of the time.  But it would appear that the groundhog is well aware of the effects of climate change—he’s predicted a short winter in 13 of 16 years of the new century.  For the record, the folks in Punxsutawney say that Phil has always been correct, but that on occasion—61% of occasions—his handlers don’t hear him correctly and mis-report his actual pronouncements.

And just remember this:  I got you, babe!

References:

Church Year.  Candlemas (Presentation of the Lord).  Available at:  http://www.churchyear.net/candlemas.html.  Accessed February 1, 2017.

History.  This Day in History, February 02.  Available at:  http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-groundhog-day.  Accessed February 1, 2017.

Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.  Shubernacadie Provincial Wildlife Park.  Available at:  https://wildlifepark.novascotia.ca/.  Accessed February 1, 2017.

Penn Live.  What is Groundhog Day?  All you need to know about the holiday’s origins.  Available at:  http://www.pennlive.com/life/2017/02/what_is_groundhog_day_2017.html.  Accessed February 1, 2017.

Stormfax Weather Almanac.  Groundhog Day.  Available at:  http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm.  Accessed February 1, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

October 1
Yosemite National Park Created (1890)
October 2
San Diego Zoo Founded (1916)
October 3
James Herriot, English Veterinarian, Born (1916)
October 4
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Ecology
October 5
Catherine Cooper Hopley, British Herpetologist, Born (1817)
October 6
Mad Hatter’s Day
October 7
Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, Born (1888)
October 8
World Octopus Day
October 9
Vajont Dam Disaster (1963)
October 10
Dnieper Dam Began Operation (1932)
October 11
Big Cypress and Big Thicket National Preserves Created (1974)
October 12
William Laurance, Tropical Conservationist, Born (1957)
October 13
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
October 14
Timpanogos Cave National Monument Created (1922)
October 15
Isabella Bird, Pioneering Eco-traveler, Born (1831)
October 16
World Food Day
October 17
Oliver Rackham born (1939)
October 18
Clean Water Act established (1972)
October 19
Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)
October 20
OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)
October 21
“Ding” Darling born (1876)
October 22
Wombat Day
October 23
Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)
October 24
Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)
October 25
Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)
October 26
Erie Canal Opens (1825)
October 27
Golden Gate and Gateway National Recreation Areas Created (1972)
October 28
Henry Mosby, Wild Turkey Biologist, Born (1913)
October 28
First Ticker-tape Parade Held (1886)
October 29
Stanley Park, Vancouver, Dedicated (1889)
October 30
UNESCO Designates 9 Natural World Heritage Sites (1981)
October 31
Lincoln Highway Dedicated (1913)
January February March April May June July August September October November December