What The Hog Wants

When the groundhog pokes his nose out of the hole on February 2—and he does tend to do that, on that day, bizarre human traditions or no—he ain’t in search of his shadow, to determine whether winter shall six weeks more last.

Instead, he’s doing what human where the women atmales most do, when they poke their noses out of their holes.

He’s looking for a woman.

Many male groundhogs do come out of their burrow on Groundhog Day, but not to see their shadow, said Stam Zervanos, an emeritus professor of biology at Penn State Berks, in Reading.

“At this time of year, males emerge from their burrows to start searching for the females,” he explained. “The females come out probably seven days later and stay just outside of their burrow or maybe just inside their burrow.” After the males determine where the females are, both sexes “go back to their winter burrows and spend a little more time in hibernation.

“In March, they all emerge together, and that’s when mating occurs,” he said. “The males know exactly where the females are, [so] mating can occur very rapidly.”

As for why Americans have a holiday called Groundhog Day, where they yank groundhogs out of the earth and pretend to commune with them, to receive their wisdom as to whether they perceived their shadow—which, if they did, means winter shall howl for six weeks more—apparently this is the fault of the Germans.

Back on the Olde Sod, Germans have their Candlemas, a mid-winter holiday featuring a hedgehog as a weather forecaster. However, when Germans streamed into Pennsylvania, they found no hedgehogs. They did find groundhogs. So they decided groundhogs would be the New World wizards in predicting the duration of winter.

As German diversions go, I guess, this is not a particularly bad one. Certainly beats serving meals consisting of blood, hooves, and pickled cabbage. Or killing half the people in Europe.

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