Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's Groundhog Day !

What's the only mammal that has a holiday named in its honor?

The groundhog, also known as the woodchuck or marmot, is the lucky animal who replaced badgers and hedgehogs in US folklore. And how did this chubby, toothy rodent gain fame as a weather forecaster? When German farmers came to America and settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they already believed that hibernating animals were able to predict the arrival of spring by coming out of their dens. Since February 2nd is halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring, the farmers's folk wisdom was that if a groundhog does not see his shadow (on a cloudy day) it must be a mild weather day and spring will arrive early. However, if he sees his shadow (on a sunny winter day) he will be startled and return to his den for another six weeks.

Today, people who are tiring of winter, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and many other cities in the US and Canada will celebrate the modest groundhog's coming-out party with food, speeches and plays. In 1993, the movie Groundhog Day was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois.

If you would like to meet a real groundhog, visit the Children's Zoo at Brookfield Zoo today. Cloudy and Tumbleweed will be looking for their shadows and enjoying a special sweet potato cake at 10:30 am. At 11:30 am, in the Hamill Family Play Zoo, a keeper will present a chat about hedgehogs, and children can make groundhog shadow puppets to take home. Admission to Brookdfield Zoo is free on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in February (Parking fee is $9).

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