UPDATE – February 2nd is Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil either emerges from his hole for good (meaning spring is on the way) or comes out, sees his shadow, then runs back inside (meaning winter isn’t yet over). UPDATE: Phil did NOT see his shadow today, meaning we will have an early spring, but that’s not necessarily good news, either for us or for Phil. Phil has been ahead of the curve when it comes to predicting global warming, because he hasn’t been seeing his shadow as often in recent years.
Wildlife biologist Doug Inkley has been studying Phil’s forecasting track record. He found that in the first 75 years of the 20th century, Phil cast no shadow only four times, which according to folklore means an early end to winter. But in just the last 25 years of the century, Phil cast no shadow fully eight times, alerting us that winter was coming to an early end, a six fold increase the reflects the current climate change.
But other biologists have discovered Phil’s secret: he’s not checking out the weather, he?s celebrating Valentine?s Day early by looking for love. National Wildlife magazine reports on a study where researchers tracked 32 groundhogs for more than four years and concluded that the real reason for the early February appearance is a version of the dating game.
Groundhogs, which are actually male woodchucks, awake after three months of hibernation to check out the available pool of ladies within their territory. They select a female with whom to spend the night, and this sleepover acts as a first date, allowing the woodchucks time to get to know each other before the official start of mating season the following month. During these meet and greet sessions, contact is confined to rubbing noses.
After checking out two or three females, the male groundhog returns to his burrow to sleep again until March, dreaming of the ladies he has just met. When he awakes and revisits each of the females, the earlier slumber parties allow the woodchucks to skip the small talk and get right down to breeding. This type of courting ritual has not been found to occur in any other animal species.
Biologist Stam Zeverano thinks it may be connected to the small window of time during which offspring must be born for survival. A baby groundhog that enters the world too early may not be able to find enough food. One that arrives too late may not be able to build up enough fat layers for winter hibernation.
Inkley says, “There are many ways different wildlife species find mates and this report on groundhog ‘dating’ behavior demonstrates that finding the right match is very important to the survival of the species. Why else would Phil drag himself out of a cozy warm den in the middle of winter?” He adds, “Wildlife are often the first to feel the effects of climatic changes. Phil would probably be the first to agree that our country needs to develop solutions to global warming fast. Otherwise he?ll be forced to pull up stakes, move north and change his name to Buffalo Bill.”
Warm weather caused by global warming woke him up early from his hibernation this year, as it has for the past few years. In LiveScience.com, Sara Goudarzi quotes biologist Hannah V. Cary as saying, “There’s less food around in the winter months, so there’s less energy available and [he’ll have] to work harder to find it.”
Whitley Strieber is no groundhog, but when searched for data on how carbon dioxide emissions were affecting the Gulf Stream, the science was right there for him to see. But who told him to look for it? Only a very few people have the key to unlocking that secret! Here at unknowncountry.com, we bring you the special gift of information that you just can’t find anyplace else. And don’t forget: fiction can unlock secrets as well!
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