Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck . . .?

Wow! Today is the last day of the “new” year. A lot has happened this past week as well! I’ll tell you all about it!

For starters, the play I wrote called “The King on a Cross” is coming along great. We’ve got lots of major parts filled. The parts we have filled are all filled by people from our church (Leptondale Bible Church): Zoey, Kim, Mary the Mother of Jesus and a few members of the crowd and other possible roles are filled as well. However, we are still missing quite a few people to act and help with behind the scenes stuff, so if you’d like to either be in or help with the production, please send an email to We could use your help!

“Planet of the Dinosaurs” (the stop-motion series I am working on) is coming along great! All the photo-taking for the second episode: “The Tropical Poles” is complete. I should have a “demo” clip from this episode for you to view real soon! This means that the series as a whole is roughly 17% finished. I have started taking pictures for the third episode of the series (“Back to the Jurassic”) as of last Monday. I actually almost forgot that I had completed a demo clip for the first episode, “Out of Africa”. Simply click the video below to be transported to northern Africa, 4,900 years into the past:
You might recall that I said this series might be ready for viewing by March, but I am now thinking a more realistic release date would be in early April. Lord-willing, this series is going to be great!

For many of us, winter can’t end soon enough! A lot of us are tired of shoveling, clearing driveways and bundling up to face the chill. Soon it will be springtime and all this will change. But how soon is the question. How soon will it be until winter loosens its icy grip? This is when some people call upon Punxsutawney Phil, a famous groundhog who on February 2nd (aka Groundhog Day), is supposedly able to tell if winter is ending soon or if we’ll have six more weeks of winter. We all know how it works: if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, it means that there will be six more weeks of winter, but if he doesn’t see his shadow, it means spring is on its way! So we’ll have to wait two more days to see when winter ends!

Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog day
Alright, all superstitions aside! Punxsutawney Phil can’t really tell when winter is ending (only God can do that!). Did you know that according the StormFax Weather Almanac, Phil has predicted correctly 39% of the time? But even still, Phil and his rodent cousins really are an amazing group of animals. So I’d say with Groundhog Day being only two days away, now would be the perfect time to look at these chubby little rodents God has made.

A groundhog eating
Needless to say, Punxsutawney Phil is a Marmota monax, aka, the groundhog. These furry mammals belong to a group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Other names for the groundhog include woodchuck and whistle-pig. The groundhog can be found anywhere between northern Alaska and Georgia, talk about a wide range! These rodents normally grow up to 26 inches long and can weigh 9 pounds, however, in areas rich with alfalfa and few predators, groundhogs can reach 30 inches long and weigh 31lbs! Predators that like to eat groundhogs for dinner include coyotes, wolves, dogs, foxes, bobcats, bears, and large hawks. Snakes can also pose a problem for young groundhogs.

The range of the groundhog
Despite being ground squirrels, groundhogs don’t store food underground like tree squirrels (you can learn more about these guys by going to THIS ENTRY). Instead, they just eat while the going is good. Their diet consists of anything from berries, grasses, nuts, and agricultural crops (this is why farmers hate these cute little guys), but did you know these animals are omnivorous? They also will eat grubs, snails, insects such as grasshoppers and other small animals.

When my family and I were living in one of our previous houses, we had a family of groundhogs living in our yard. It was great fun watching them! If my memory serves correct, we had a family of six – two parents and four babies. Unlike many other mammals, father groundhogs stick around after mating (many mammals mate and move on); however, just before the babies are born, he skedaddles! The breeding season for these rodents is from March to April at the latest and babies are born in April or May. A mother groundhog has one litter and year and the babies are born blind, hairless and helpless. After the babies are born, the mother feeds them with milk – mammals are the only animals God created to produce milk to feed their newborns (however, some male birds such as emperor penguins and pigeons produce a milk-like substance to feed the chicks).

Four baby groundhogs coming out of their burrow. They are SO CUTE!!!
Groundhogs are diurnal and very alert when feeding. I remember that when the mother and baby groundhogs were out feeding, the mother would keep a close vigil on her surroundings to make sure that there were no predators around. And if we ever made a sound while watching them, they would freeze until they felt it was safe to presume feeding. However, if they saw us come outside, the little creatures dashed into their burrow! When danger is nearby, a groundhog will make a whistle-like sound to warn other groundhogs. Hence their nickname: “whistle-hog”! Despite their hefty body-build, groundhogs are great swimmers and climbers and will sometimes climb a tree or take to the water to escape danger or if they want to check out their surroundings.

A groundhog looking out for danger
When the weather starts to turn nippy, groundhogs and humans know one thing is certain – winter is coming! While many animals go into a period that a lot of people call hibernation, groundhogs are one of the few animals that enter true hibernation (bears for instance don’t go into true hibernation and will wake up in the middle of winter if there is a warm snap). After crawling into the deepest part of the burrow, the groundhog falls into a deep sleep. But this is no ordinary sleep. God created these animals to deal with the winter chill! First of all, their body temperature drops to 39 or 40° F, not much warmer than the temperature outside the burrow! But groundhogs are insulated with a layer of fat that it stored up just before hibernating. Secondly, the groundhog will slow its metabolic rate to save energy. While hibernating, groundhogs live off the fat reserves they built up before winter started. When the groundhog emerges in springtime, they are needless to say, much thinner than when they went in! Another cool feature the groundhog has is the ability to make its heart rate drop . . . a lot! When I say a lot, I do mean a lot – as much as four to five beats a minute! You know what really puzzles scientists? How a groundhog can remain living and unharmed despite the heartbeat being so slow. Some theorize that the rodents somehow store large amounts of ascorbic acid and other antioxidants so that their brains aren’t damaged. Cool, huh?

A groundhog gathering plant matter for its burrow
Another mystery about the groundhog that makes scientists scratch their scalps is how they know when it is time to awake from hibernation. Some believe that the gradually increasing amount of sunlight somehow affect the groundhog’s internal clock and changes the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps it to sleep. But still, scientists don’t know! God really instilled some amazing stuff into the groundhog!

I bet you never knew that these chubby little rodents could be so amazing! But indeed, they are beautifully designed to not only survive but thrive in the environments in which they’re living. Groundhogs can even teach us something about ourselves. While we humans may not be good hibernators as groundhogs, or as strong as elephants, or as good swimmers as fish, we are still very unique creations. Why? Well, we are made in God’s image! No other living thing on the planet can declare that! And God even among ourselves we are unique – we have different likes, dislikes, hair, skin color, eye color, interests and etc. This reminds me of a very popular passage in scripture: Psalm 139:14. It says: “I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” A relevant piece of scripture that describes each and every one of us!

I bet you've never seen albino groundhogs, have you?
What an amazing adventure we went through today! Who knew the chubby, little groundhog could be such a wonderful creature? Be sure to come back next Thursday and we can learn more about the amazing world God created for us to enjoy. But before you go, I’d like to ask a question: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

PS: Not many people know the answer to the “woodchuck riddle”. But I’ve managed to finally track it down. Here it is: “A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

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