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Nature Notebook – Woodchuck Pups

Five woodchuck pups emerged from their den under my porch this week after weeks of staying underground and growing with Mom. She has used this den for the last few years but this week I observed a new behavior I hadn’t seen before. One of the young groundhogs climbed up a piece of wood on the side of a shed and chowed down on poison ivy leaves.

While poison ivy is harmful to humans when touching it, there are many animals that use poison ivy, a native plant, as a food source. Countless birds eat the berries, and mammals such as deer, black bear, rabbits, and mice will munch on the leaves or twigs. The noxious oil in poison ivy called urushiol can cause rashes on humans but doesn’t affect these animals.

Woodchucks are members of the squirrel family and with their strong forelimbs and heavy claws are quite adept at climbing trees (or wooden sheds) to reach their food.  They have been spotted at heights of 30 feet.  From here they can feed on the leaves of their favorites:  sassafras, red mulberry and hackberry trees. They are mostly herbivores and eat grasses, dandelions, other herbaceous plants, but will eat the occasional insect or snail.