The Friday Fillip


Munro Day in Nova Scotia it may be. But it’s also Groundhog Day. Here in Ontario the good news is that Wiarton Willie, depicted above (yes, the image is “shadowed”), didn’t see his shadow; and in Nova Scotia Shubenacadie Sam, a resident of the eponymous town, also failed in the same way.

The rodents in question (properly Marmota monax, cousin to squirrels, rats, marmots and the like) are featured along with their U.S. cousin Punxsutawney Phil on a brief CBC news video.

This is indeed good news, but a little nuts, no? Well, there’s a history of sorts here, that stretches back into Roman times and, once suspects earlier still. They used a hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), unavailable to us new world types, and the spring divination thing got picked up by others, becoming imbolc for the Celts and Candlemas for the Christians eventually, all of which is tied up with the usual mix of fertility, purification and divination concerns, plausible in Europe where the green tips of things might just start pushing up through the soil along about now. Here, of course, all of this weather prediction takes place amid blowing snow (see video above), and green sprouts are weeks months away still.

All of which is curious when we learn that despite the switch from hedge- to ground- in our hogs there’s some basis for watching Willie after all. Cornell, also on Slaw today as it happens, reported on studies using groundhogs for more serious medical reasons, but which also find that:

The endogenous cycles of the woodchuck are so strong that even in the laboratory, where the temperature is maintained at 70 degrees year-round with ample food and water, some woodchucks still stop eating and hibernate because of the underlying biology of the circannual cycle, Concannon said.

“And guess when they stop hibernating? Right around Groundhog Day in early February,” [Concannon] said. He suspects that their urge to hibernate is driven by decreasing ‘day-length’ but that the effectiveness of short days (or even total darkness underground) wears off over time. When that happens, the processes are reversed, and the rodents emerge from hibernation with a very healthy appetite and high energy, which are further stimulated by the increasing day lengths that occur in late winter and spring.

Groundhogs sound like my kind of people.


  1. Ah, Groundhog Day!

    The move of that title never fails to amuse me. From the character Phil, played by Bill Murray:

    “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter. ”

    Stay warm, everyone!