The woodchuck is also called a groundhog and is actually a member of the squirrel family. Woodchucks are large and stocky, weighing 5-10 pounds, with a short, stubby tail and short legs (picture Punxsutawney Phil!). Although they look sort of cuddly and aren’t aggressive, woodchucks can be extremely destructive.
Woodchucks eat lots of plant material, especially when they are bulking up for winter hibernation. A single adult can eat one to two pounds of vegetation each day, including grass, weeds, vegetables, and flowers. They can be pests of agricultural fields as well as home gardens. Woodchucks have been known to carry off an entire backyard tomato patch, one tomato at a time. Woodchucks also damage fruit trees and shrubs by gnawing on the bark. Sometimes they will gnaw on decks or teak furniture to sharpen their incisors.
Besides their destructive eating habits, woodchucks also cause damage with their denning habits. The woodchuck is a big guy so he digs big holes and moves a lot of dirt. Woodchucks like to dig under buildings, sometimes undermining them. The burrow opening is marked with a large mound of dirt at its entrance. The den consists of large underground tunnels and sleeping chambers which have been known to cave in when riding lawn mowers drive over them. Mounds of soil pushed out of burrows make a mess in golf courses, parks, and home lawns.
Woodchucks can carry rabies. But if you see them moving slowly along or lying on ledges or fence posts in the middle of the day sunning themselves, don’t be unduly alarmed. That’s normal woodchuck behavior.