What Do Groundhogs Eat?

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Have you spotted one of those giant, incredibly cute yet, equally pesky squirrels in your garden or yard? If yes, you probably have immediately recognized them as groundhogs. Groundhogs are marmots found in North America, geographically populated in the eastern U.S., Canada, and Alaska.

These lowland critters are considered pests throughout the entire U.S. mainly because they destroy crops, including plants and vegetables you have been so affectionately growing in your garden. They often dig up burrows near to where they feed so they can have an abundant food supply without venturing too far. This translates to some nasty digging into your backyard or garden.

But what exactly do they eat? This question is the answer to understanding how you can keep these critters away from your home, especially if you are a gardening enthusiast. Below we have discussed everything revolving around the groundhog’s diet, including a full list of what they eat.

 

What do Groundhogs eat? (full list)

Though Groundhogs are omnivores, they extensively feed on varying food plants, vegetation, and fruits, mainly including clovers, alfalfa, dandelions, weed, squash, peas, beans, carrots, soybeans, corn, apples, black and red raspberries, and cherries. Like herbivores, they feed on vegetation and fruits mainly because they don’t drink water, and in order to keep themselves hydrated, they need water, and they get water from these greens, vegetables, and fruits.

Although they are accepted as herbivores, they feed on live foods too, such as June bugs, grasshoppers, snails, and worms. They eat a lot during summer in order to reserve fats in order to survive and hibernate during winter.

The Herbivorous Diet

A majority of the groundhog’s diet comprises greens, fruits, and crops. A plant-based diet is the usual feast of groundhogs which includes the following:

Plants, flowers, and vegetables: 

  • Greens: Groundhogs eat a variety of grass such as fountain grass and other greens with greater amounts of nutrients such as alfalfa, geranium clover leaves, weeds, hackberry leaves, maple leaves, foxglove, heather, citronella, and other similar plants. 
  • Flowers: Groundhogs feast on flowers such as daisies, dandelions, and lavender.
  • Vegetables: Lettuce makes a significant portion of a groundhog’s meal. Vegetation such as celery, corn, peas, squash, and carrots are a feast for the critter. They also feed on beans, broccoli, soybeans, and other cultivated crops.
  • Tree Bark and Twigs: Although these are less likely to make for a groundhog’s meal, these critters often eat trees in the form of bark and twigs to keep sharpening their teeth while extracting nutrients. Groundhogs gravitate towards black cherry and bark wood when it comes to making a feast out of trees. 
  • Seedlings: Groundhogs will devour any seedlings they find while making their burrows, all while digging up for more of these before they even blossom into plants.

Fruits

When it comes to being a gardener’s nightmare, groundhogs are surely the worst. They do exploit not only plants, vegetables, and flowers but also fruits. They generally feed on apples, red mulberries, hackberries, and hackberry leaves, raspberries, especially black raspberries, cherries, apples (the favorite), and other similar berries available near their burrows such as blueberries, blackberries, etc. 

 

The Omnivorous Diet

Although groundhogs are considered herbivorous, it’s not entirely true. Yes, a major part of a groundhog’s diet is plant-based, and it gets uncomfortable for them to go without feeding on greens for long, but a groundhog also eats small animals.

Thus, groundhogs, as omnivores, eat a number of small animals and insects, including:

  • Birds and Bird Eggs: It is not uncommon to find a groundhog feeding on baby birds. Baby birds or juvenile birds usually fall prey to these critters due to being unable to fly. Apart from these, groundhogs also prey on small birds such as sparrows and their eggs. 
  • Insects: Since groundhogs live in burrows, they often find insects around their ‘homes.’ They, therefore, also feed on ants, grubs, crickets, grasshoppers, and bugs, especially large bugs such as June Bugs. 

Groundhogs will also eat meaty snails if they come across one.

 

What do Groundhogs eat in different seasons?

Depending upon the availability and abundance of food, apart from their habitat, whether urban or wild, a groundhog’s diet changes throughout the seasons.

Spring

When the spring sets in, groundhogs are still recovering from their hibernation, and therefore mostly go for greens such as dandelion and coltsfoot. Other important groundhog foods include buttercup, tearthumb, red and black raspberries, and plantain, apart from seeds and seedlings. Groundhogs tend to snack on soft leaves of alfalfa and clover during spring. Wild lettuce, agrimony, sheep sorrel, buckwheat, and a variety of grass such as timothy grass and fountain grass are an important part of the groundhog’s spring meal. 

Although groundhogs also feed on insects and small animals such as grubs, snails, grasshoppers, and birds, during the early spring, these make for a very small part of the critter’s meal.

Summer

In early June, a groundhog’s food intake decreases, and its weight increases by as much as 100%. This is done to prepare for the harsh winters that lie ahead. Since groundhogs are true hibernators, they store up fat deposits in their body, and their metabolism slows down to help them sustain hibernation without having to forage for food. 

Throughout summer, groundhogs usually seek out their burrows during the dusk to look for hackberry, maple leaves, and other vegetation such as mulberry. 

They also eat snails and grubs; however, the consumption is limited. 

Autumn

During the fall, when the greens fall off, groundhogs switch to animals, and insects and plants now slip down on the priority list. Since there’s a scarce supply of leaves and most flowering plants, groundhogs eat small insects and bird eggs since these have a high fat and protein content that aids in further storing fat in the body for sustenance in winter. 

During autumn, groundhogs forage for food in the mid-afternoon, all while gathering food in their burrows to stock for winters. 

Winter

As true hibernators, groundhogs don’t eat as much in winters. The hibernation lasts from October to February, during which groundhogs remain in their burrows, out of sight of the predators, taking an effective break. 

Although groundhogs hibernate, they do occasionally wake up from their sleep and eat from the food reserves they have accumulated over summer and fall. They do not drink water but obtain hydration from liquid portions of plants and rain dew that accumulate in their burrows during winter. Groundhogs spend comparatively less time eating during winter to save energy, unlike in summers and fall when they can forage and eat for over two hours without a break. 

By the end of their hibernation period, that is February, groundhogs have lost half of their body weight (which is equivalent to losing all the fat deposits they gained during summer and autumn). Now, they are ready to fill in on food again, store fat and food, and thus, the cycle continues. 

 

When do Groundhogs eat?

Groundhogs are diurnal; they forage for food sources during the daytime. The foraging and eating activity mostly occurs in the early morning and late afternoons during summer. They emerge from their burrows to gather food during the early morning of spring to fall. Their eating sessions last for two hours maximum when they are looking for sustenance.

How much do Groundhogs eat?

Groundhogs eat approximately one-third of their body weight every day, mostly between spring and fall – during this time, they prepare themselves for hibernation. They forage for food and eat a variety of plant matters diurnally.

Despite the fact that they are ground-dwelling animals, they climb up trees and feed on fruits. An average adult can consume about 1-2 lbs of vegetation each day. Surely annoying pests for any gardening enthusiast or farmer, groundhogs, even a single one, can eat into your yard, garden or farm overnight, destroying plenty of vegetation.

They double their body weight during summer since during winter, they hibernate and get nourishment from their accumulated body fat. 

What do Baby Groundhogs eat?

A baby groundhog’s diet varies, though not much when it comes to being brought up in the natural setting and in a rehabilitation center. In the natural setting, a baby groundhog feeds on the mother’s milk that is closely followed by a diet of soft grass and vegetation that is easy to digest. 

In a rehabilitation center, an abandoned groundhog is fed a substitute to the mother’s milk, later followed by a diet that resembles that of a groundhog in the wild.

Natural Baby Groundhog Diet

Post the mating season in March and April, the offspring are born one month later and are completely dependent on the mother for survival and feeding. The mother groundhog nurses the baby for about six weeks after birth.

Next, when the baby is weaned, which is at about six weeks, they start feeding on plants and consume a plant-based diet. Prior to weaning, groundhogs are completely dependent on the mother’s milk to keep their appetite satiated. 

After six weeks, baby groundhogs start leaving their burrows to forage for grass, clover leaves, and other easily available vegetation options around them. They soon start feeding on small insects, nuts, and fruits too. 

Abandoned Baby Groundhog Diet

If you ever find an abandoned baby groundhog, you are supposed to take it to a rehabilitation center as soon as you can. However, if you need to feed it, you must know what suits the woodchuck and whatnot.

Before feeding the groundhog anything, you need to make sure it is hydrated; therefore, supply it with a rehydration solution. Post that, use a puppy milk substitute or Esbilac to feed the groundhog using the right technique, or there are high chances that the baby will aspirate the liquid.

If the baby is weaned, you can introduce it to vegetation such as a variety of grasses, fruits such as berries and apples, lettuce, pears, and small insects such as grubs and crickets. Once the groundhog is about eight weeks, prepare to release it back in the wild.

 

FAQs

Do groundhogs hibernate?

Groundhogs are “true hibernators” who can reduce their body temperature and heart rate dramatically from late winter to early spring. Groundhogs dramatically slow down their heartbeat to about five beats a minute in order to save energy, and their body temperature can drop as low as 41 degrees Fahrenheit to slow down metabolism. Their breathing rate also gets reduced to one breath in six minutes.

Groundhogs hibernate from late fall for three months, and the males emerge while it’s still quite cold in order to head start on reproduction. The groundhogs from the northern latitudes hibernate for a longer period than the southern latitude groundhogs.

What is the difference between a gopher and a groundhog?

Both gophers and groundhogs are problematic pests found throughout the U.S. Though they have somewhat similar burrowing habits and appearance, they are not similar, and they belong to different families entirely. 

Gophers are smaller than groundhogs in size; gophers have yellow or brown teeth that protrude from the mouth, whereas groundhogs have white teeth visible only when the mouth is open.

The tail of the gophers is hairless, whereas the tails of the groundhogs are covered with thick and bushy fur. The gophers have pink-colored feet, and the groundhogs have black or brown feet. Gophers being smaller in size, weigh around 2 pounds, whereas the groundhogs weigh around 12 pounds.

Do groundhogs drink water?

They don’t actually drink water from ponds, lakes, or from your water bottle; rather, they get the required water from the juices of various types of food plants that they consume. Groundhogs don’t need other sources of water; they keep themselves hydrated from the leafy plants and fruits, aided by their sprinkling with rain or dew.

What can I feed a wild groundhog? 

Groundhogs are herbivores, and they eat a variety of garden crops, including lettuce, alfalfa, clovers, dandelions, daisies, hackberry. Carrots, celery, corn, peas, and beans are also their favorite food. All these foods are the main source of attraction to them, and hence they create burrows nearby the food source.

In summer, one can feed them with hackberry, mulberry, and maple leaves. They can be fed with live food like snails, grasshoppers, grubs. They depend on the local vegetation and some easily available pests to reserve fat for their true hibernation.

Can bubble gum kill groundhogs?

Groundhogs, in particular, find “Double Bubble” branded bubblegum and Juicy Fruit gum tasty, and as they eat it, their insides gum up, and it ultimately kills them.

 

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