With thousands of species of rodents roaming the world today, it can be difficult to tell each kind apart. Mice and hamsters are arguably the easiest to identify. But squirrels and prairie dogs, for example, can be more confusing, especially since they look so similar to each other.
Many people are also confused by woodchucks vs groundhogs. Some might use these terms to refer to different kinds of rodents, while others use them interchangeably. So, who’s right? Are woodchucks and groundhogs the same animal, or are they vastly different?
Today, we’ll answer this burning question and a lot more about woodchucks and groundhogs. We’ll even tell you our top tips for removing them from your garden if they’ve been terrorizing it for some time now. Keep scrolling to see more!
Are Woodchucks and Groundhogs the Same Thing?
While the names sound vastly different, woodchucks and groundhogs are actually the same exact creature. The scientific name of this animal is marmota monax, and it’s a member of the squirrel family. Marmots are simply very big squirrels that are active in the summer but not in the winter.
But why do people call this one animal two different names? The answer lies in etymology and where these words originate.
Native Americans from centuries back used to call this creature the “wejack.” Another name for it is “woodshaw.” Strangely, “woodchuck” is the term more often used by British people to refer to this animal. In modern-day North America, people are more likely to say “groundhog.”
Some people also call this rodent a “whistle pig,” thanks to its incessant, high-pitched whistle. It can also be referred to as a “land-beaver.”
The Basics About These Fascinating Rodents
Groundhogs (or woodchucks) have a large and stocky body, unlike other rodents that are small and can sneak around easily. Their grayish-brown bodies are usually around 15-20 inches long and have short tails.
These rodents are known for their huge upper teeth. These upper incisors help them eat crops and plants in the wild. They also allow these rodents to create burrows and tunnels underground to hide from predators like bobcats, hawks, coyotes, foxes, and wolves.
Contrary to their name and popular riddles made over the years, woodchucks don’t actually eat hardwood or even tree bark. Instead of chucking wood, they only chuck dirt when they burrow in the soil to create their underground tunnel spaces.
Curious to see how woodchucks look when they go in and out of the burrows they make? Check out this cute slip of the day in the life of a woodchuck:
So, if not wood, what do woodchucks eat? Like many rodents, woodchucks or groundhogs are herbivores that primarily eat vegetables and plants like alfalfa, dandelion, and clover leaves. However, they also sometimes snack on insects, snails, and very small animals in the wild.
You’ll find these rodents throughout North America, from the United States to Canada and even to Alaska. They can survive in cold climates because of their thick coats. Plus, if they get too cold, they can simply burrow themselves underground to hide until it’s warm in the open fields again.
Woodchucks (aka Groundhogs) Are Common Garden Pests
Woodchucks or groundhogs may sound and look charming and cute. But if you tend to a garden, you might know woodchucks to be the bane of your existence.
Creating little tunnels and burrows in the soil may sound harmless—and it is, for the most part. But if a groundhog were to find its way into the garden you’ve been working so hard on only to chuck the soil on your garden beds to create a burrow entrance for itself, you would be annoyed, too.
This burrowing behavior can cause issues in a garden such as flooding and erosion. In big cities, it can even result in weaker infrastructure and road damage.
And not only do groundhogs ruin the soil in your garden. They also end up eating your high-value crops and produce. They’ll even munch on seedlings if they see any. That’s the main reason why they love to hang out in vegetable gardens—the food source is unlimited.
How to Get Rid of Woodchucks or Groundhogs
Are you struggling with getting rid of a pesky groundhog who keeps ruining your garden beds and eating your delicious vegetables? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Here are six ways to get rid of these rodents once and for all so you can get your beautiful garden back.
1. Install a fence to keep them out of your garden
The easiest way to block woodchucks from entering your garden is by building a fence around it. Woodchucks aren’t known to jump high enough to get through fences, so this is a terrific physical barrier to lock them out of your garden.
Make sure to bury your fence at least two or three feet under the ground to keep them from getting in by digging new tunnels. It also helps anchor the fence properly so that it doesn’t get uprooted.
2. Set up live traps and relocate them
You can also set up traps to capture them. We recommend doing live traps, a humane way to trap animals that don’t injure them. As much as possible, it’s best to use humane ways to get rid of pests, especially when they are large animals such as woodchucks.
Instead, you lure them into a cage with bait like fruits and vegetables. Some treats they might be attracted to include beans, peas, broccoli, and other yummy, plant-based food. The cage automatically closes, and you’ll have a healthy groundhog on your hands.
Then, when the groundhog is safely in the cage, you can simply take them to a new habitat. Open fields and forest edges are great potential homes for them. They might be a drive away from where you live, but the effort is worth it to keep them out of your garden and in a better place to live.
3. Mow your lawn regularly to keep the grass short
Groundhogs love places with tall grass and vegetation because it allows them to hide from predators and humans. Remember, they’re large digger squirrels, so it takes lush vegetation to keep them hidden when they’re not in the underground burrows.
So, trim your grass and mow your lawn to make sure the vegetation in your home and garden is always short. This can deter groundhogs from hanging around in the area, forcing them to look for another garden that will allow them to successfully hide from perceived threats.
4. Use strong scents to repel them
You can also use specific spices and herbs with strong scents to repel these rodents from entering your garden. Garlic, onions, chili peppers, and other flavor enhancers with pungent odors might help in warding away groundhogs.
Infuse chopped-up garlic, onions, and peppers with water and put the mixture in a spray bottle. Then, spritz the liquid all over the main entrance of the garden. If you know where their burrows are, spray the mixture near that area as well.
You can also simply crush some garlic and chop up the onions and chili peppers and place them in a small bowl. Leave the bowl out overnight in your garden in areas a groundhog might enter through. The smell of these freshly chopped vegetables may repel it from coming closer.
5. Use urine from predators to scare them away
Many small animals know the smell of their predators. To trick groundhogs into thinking that a predator is close by, pour some predator urine in key areas of your garden that groundhogs frequent. As soon as they smell the urine, they’ll run off to find a safer place to live.
You can purchase fox or coyote urine at specialty pet shops. Remember to reapply the urine regularly until you’re sure that the groundhogs are gone.
6. Call professional pest control for help
If none of the above works in getting rid of groundhogs from your garden, you might already have a severe infestation on your hands. Instead of trying to work it out yourself, perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone and call a professional pest control service to handle the situation for you.
These experts will take a look at your garden and assess the situation before coming up with a treatment plan. In no time, they’ll have those pesky woodchucks out, and you will never have to think about them again.
In summary, groundhogs and woodchucks are the same animal. They both refer to the marmota monax, and the terms are interchangeable. And contrary to what old tongue twisters and popular media has led many people to believe, they don’t actually eat wood.
These animals love to make burrows in the soil. And while it’s cute in theory, it can be a huge hassle for gardeners. That’s why woodchucks and groundhogs are considered pests in the garden.
But there are plenty of ways to get rid of these pests. Whether you choose to build a fence around your crops or set up humane traps to give these woodchucks a better home, there’s always a way to handle the situation and gain control of your garden again.