February 2 is Groundhog Day, when everyone who’s been suffering through an especially cold winter this year hopes he won’t see his shadow and pop down into his hole again, delaying spring weather. We now know that first groundhog will be a male?and we know why he’s sneaking out early, too.

Most groundhogs in the northeastern U.S. don’t fully emerge from their burrows until early March. But groundhogs don’t stay underground all winter?they have alternating periods of waking and sleeping, which may be what started the Groundhog Day legend. Some males like to get out early in February and visit a few female burrows, before the ladies emerge in the spring. Researcher Stam Zervanos says, “For males, these early excursions are an opportunity to survey their territories and to establish bonds with females.”

We all know what happens to males in the spring, which is why a male groundhog means spring is here. That’s one sign of spring that’s easy to read.

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