Woodchucks, and whistle pigs, better known as groundhogs, aren’t really peoples’ favorite animals. Despite belonging to the cutesy squirrel family, rumor has it that they’re pretty invading when it comes to cropland, gardens, and vegetable- and plant-growing areas. But, they’re not there to observe nature and its beautiful abundance; they’re there to pretty much do the opposite, which is to destroy it.
But, apart from this innate rodent-like behavior, groundhogs are actually pretty interesting animals, with several similar cousins that people rarely talk about. So, to move away from the negative, and try to understand these little creatures, we’re going to explore groundhogs’ cousins and see what they’re about. Do they like to chill, swim around in rivers, explore the forests, or are they more into destroy everything’ kind of vibe? Let’s get started and see for ourselves!
Species Similar to Groundhogs
Groundhogs’ closest relatives are marmots; endearing rodents from the same squirrel family. Because of this close kinship, marmots and groundhogs are pretty similar in appearance, and presumably in behavior as well. Marmots, like groundhogs, are pretty small, with stout bodies and short legs.
They’re often of a reddish-brown to gray color, which is pretty perfect for sneaking around. Not to mention those strong claws that enable them to pretty much dig out anything. As a matter of fact, marmots are such good diggers that they’re known for digging out basically underground networks for movement, shelter, and hibernation.
These social animals exhibit similar behaviors to groundhogs, forming close-knit family groups and emitting loud whistles to communicate danger. Additionally, both groundhogs and marmots are known for their remarkable ability to predict seasonal changes, hibernating throughout the winter months. Marmots can be found throughout the States, but mostly in areas of California, Colorado, Utah, Washington, and Alaska.
Another intriguing group of groundhog cousins is the prairie dogs. These charismatic creatures are native to the grasslands of North America, particularly the central and western regions. Prairie dogs are well-adapted to their open habitats, being equipped with robust bodies, short tails, and strong claws for burrowing.
Prairie dogs are highly social animals, living in intricate and extensive underground colonies that can stretch for miles. Within these interconnected tunnels, prairie dogs engage in intricate communication systems, using a variety of vocalizations and gestures to warn their colony members of potential threats; similar to marmots.
One of the most intriguing aspects of prairie dogs’ behavior is their elaborate jump-yip display, where they leap into the air, emitting high-pitched calls. This serves as an alarm signal, alerting other members of the colony to potential dangers. Groundhogs and marmots, as previously mentioned, also display similar alert behaviors, emitting piercing whistles to communicate potential threats to their fellow groundhogs.
Beavers are probably the most hard-working, industrious groundhog cousins out there. Also known as the ‘nature’s engineers’, beavers are one of those creatures that have a truly remarkable impact on nature and their environment. They have a rather unique ability to create, or rather construct intricate dams and lodges using branches, rocks, mud, or anything else of use at their disposal. They strategically place tree branches to redirect waterways and basically create ponds and wetlands.
Why do beavers do this, you may ask? Well, unlike their previously-mentioned cousins, beavers don’t really feel safe on the ground. So, they create their own safe haven in the water. But, this doesn’t only benefit them, but also other animals and the entire surrounding ecosystem.
Even when we observe beavers, we cannot help but notice they’re made to do what they do. In appearance, they’re pretty similar to groundhogs, but what differentiates between these cousins are the webbed hind feet, as well as special eyelids (clear eyelid caller nictitating membrane, that acts like swimming goggles), that ensure beavers feel natural in the water.
Gophers and groundhogs are generally mistaken for one another, mostly because they’re so similar in appearance and behavior. Nevertheless, there are some differences between these countries that we need to talk about. Just like groundhogs, they’re small rodent-like creatures that really like to dig around. They’re pretty light in weight, and have coarse brown fur and yellowish teeth.
Now, the first difference between groundhogs and gophers lies in the so-called cheek pouches. Gophers have these expandable cheek pouches (within their mouths, of course), which they use to store, gather, and transport large amounts of food; similar to squirrels.
Another difference lies in that the gophers, unlike groundhogs, aren’t that social; they lead solitary lives, so much so that every gopher has their own burrow system. Other cousins have networks of underground tunnels to basically socialize, but that’s not the case with the gopher loners. But, from time to time, they will venture to the surface to look for mates, or forage for food.
Capybaras are our favorite groundhog cousins. These friendly, docile, incredibly-chill rodents are just incredible in every possible way. They’re, first of all, the largest rodents in the world, and, second of all, they’re incredibly social animals. Capybaras live in family groups of up to 30 individual capybaras. They groom each other, bond with each other as well as other animals, and overall have extremely close and strong social ties.
Capybaras are large, as we mentioned, but they’re also barrel-shaped, with short legs and a rather blunt muzzle. Because of their webbed feet and dense fur, they’re exceptional swimmers and withstand cold temperatures without an issue. Although, capybaras really like to chill in thermal regions, surrounded by nature and preferably citrus. Speaking of citrus, capybaras primarily feed on grasses, water plants, and fruits as well.
Capybaras spend a significant amount of time in or near water, for multiple reasons. Sure, they like to chill near water, but it also provides them with a source of food but also serves as a refuge from predators. These adaptable creatures have the unique ability to remain submerged in water for several minutes, using their nostrils and eyes positioned on the top of their heads to remain alert to their surroundings.
Capybaras are extremely popular among humans, with some even domesticating them as pets. They are often seen interacting with other animals, such as birds and turtles, creating a sense of harmony in their ecosystems, which makes us love them even more.
Squirrels are yet another cousin of the beloved groundhogs. These rodent-like creatures are extremely agile and charismatic, so much so that are widely recognized and cherished around the world. These small to medium-sized rodents have adapted to various habitats, including forests, woodlands, and urban environments, so you can pretty much see them anywhere and everywhere.
Squirrels are known for their distinctive bushy tails, which they use for balance, communication, and warmth during colder months. With their sharp claws and dexterous paws, squirrels are excellent climbers and can navigate tree trunks and branches with remarkable ease. They have a diverse diet, consuming nuts, seeds, fruits, and even bird eggs or insects.
Squirrels are also experts when it comes to food gathering, known for their habit of burying acorns and other food items for future consumption. Just like gophers, they have these expandable cheek pouches where they store and transport nuts, for later consumption. Their lively and acrobatic movements, along with their playful nature, make squirrels a delightful sight in parks and gardens, and they have become a beloved and iconic symbol of nature, from children’s stories to blockbuster movies.
Also Read: Feeding Peanuts To Squirrels: Is It Safe?
Hyraxes, despite not belonging to the rodent family or kinship, bear striking similarities to the groundhogs in terms of appearance and behavior. These small creatures are native to Africa and the Middle East, so there aren’t many of them around the States. Nevertheless, what makes them similar to their cousins are their stout bodies, short legs, and distinctive facial features reminiscent of groundhogs.
Hyraxes are primarily rock-dwelling creatures, that generally inhabit savannas and woodlands. Like groundhogs, they are expert climbers, using their strong limbs and sharp claws to navigate rocky terrain. Hyraxes are known for their unique dental structure, with constantly growing incisors similar to those of rodents.
Hyraxes, just like groundhogs, are extremely social creatures, and socializing with other hyraxes is essential for their survival. These animals form small family groups and communicate through a combination of vocalizations and scent markings. They also exhibit communal defecation sites, known as middens, where they deposit their waste as a way of marking their territories.
Aren’t groundhogs’ cousins incredible? Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed exploring these incredible creatures just as much as we did. Not only is this a great way t expand one’s knowledge about wildlife, but it also helps us understand the natural world, how it works, and how it’s interconnected. From the alpine marmots to the prairie dogs of the plains and the hyraxes of Africa, these groundhog cousins showcase the remarkable adaptations and behaviors evolved by burrowing mammals.
By exploring and studying their physical attributes, habitats, and social interactions, we gain insights into the fascinating intricacies of animal life. We hope this article will inspire you to expand your own research and get to love and appreciate groundhogs (despite them probably ruining your garden at this very moment).