Biology

Groundhog's Day is coming up soon. It's a perfect time to learn more about this fascinating animal.

Groundhogs have a number of common names. They are also called woodchucks or whistle pigs. Their scientific name is Marmota monax. They belong to the taxonomic group marmots. Groundhogs are rodents, so they have large front teeth or incisors. They also have sharp claws for digging their big burrows.

(Public Domain Illustration)

It is not unusual to see groundhogs sitting next to their burrows or eating plants along highways. Perhaps that's why I've seen them often, but don't have a single photograph.

For older children:

Susan and Joe Sam have spent a great deal of time studying, photographing, and videoing families of woodchucks that live near their home. See their new website, Woodchuck Wonderland™. (Note:  The website does discuss the entire life cycle of the woodchuck, including mating.) They have made many interesting discoveries regarding the family behavior of woodchucks. I highly recommend the photo galleries.

For preschoolers:

Groundhog Day Play By Roberta Gibson

It is February 2, Groundhog Day. Groundhog is looking for his shadow. People say that if he sees his shadow there will be six more months of winter.

Where is Groundhog?

He’s in his burrow.
Can he see his shadow?
No, it’s dark in there.
Where is Groundhog?
Can he see his shadow?
No, he’s behind the big rock.
Where is Groundhog?
He’s behind that tree.
Can he see his shadow?
No, the tree trunk is blocking the light.
Where is Groundhog now?
Can he see his shadow?
No, he’s hiding behind Deer.
Where is Groundhog?
He’s standing out in the sun.
Can he see his shadow?
Yes, he can!
Back to bed Groundhog. You can sleep for six more weeks.

Related:

Earlier Groundhog's Day Science post with shadow activities

Want to learn more about your local birds? One of our favorite bird-related activities, the Great Backyard Bird Count, is coming up next month:  February 17-20, 2017.

This bird count is a prime example of a child-friendly citizen science project. Basically all you need to do is count the birds you see over 15 minutes and then report them on the website. Although it is called "backyard," you can count anywhere birds are found, including parks, preserves, or fields.

There is plenty of information and instructions about getting started at the website.

Related:

Looking for more children's books about birds? Check out Taking Flight: a List of Children’s Books About Bird Migration at Science Books for Kids or...

Taking-Flight-childrens-books-about-bird-migration-300x270

...the list of children's books for young birdwatchers at Science Books for Kids

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers

You may also want to try:

Are you planning to participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count? What kinds of birds do you see in your backyard? Let us know!

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Many people have heard about the plight of polar bears, having to swim farther and farther to find food because of the melting sea ice in the Arctic. Professor Scott Mills is studying the effects of climate change on a smaller, cuter animal:  the snowshoe hare.

For STEM Friday we have Hopping Ahead of Climate Change by Sneed B. Collard III, which chronicles Professor Mills's studies.

Have you heard of snowshoe hares? They are one of a small number of animal species that have different colored fur in the summer versus the winter. In the summer they are brown and look very much like a cottontail rabbit. In the winter, their fur is mostly white.

arctic_harePublic Domain Photograph By Unknown retrieved from Wikimedia

How is climate change a threat? As with other animals that change from brown to white, the hares are triggered to molt their hair by changes in day length rather than temperature. That means when the nights start to get longer, the hares change to white, regardless of whether it has started to snow or not. Recently, the snows have been coming later and later in the season where snowshoe hares live. As you might imagine, a stark white hare is probably more vulnerable to predators on bare ground than on snowy ground. Professor Mills and his students test that hypothesis.

The book is illustrated with color photographs of hares and their habitats, as well as helpful graphs, charts, and maps. Although it may look superficially like a picture book, this is a solidly middle grade title for readers 10 years old and older.

Pick up Hopping Ahead of Climate Change for students interested in environmental issues, animals, or science. You will be glad you did.

Activity:  Create a Chart of the Characteristics of Hares versus Rabbits

Why are the animals called hares rather than rabbits? In Arizona we have both types, so here are some differences:

Hares:

  • Babies born with fur
  • Larger, longer hind legs and often have longer ears (although not snowshoes)
  • Ears with some black fur
  • Live on the surface
  • Haven't been domesticated

Rabbits:

  • Babies born without fur
  • Shorter hind legs
  • Most live in burrows in the ground, but not all
  • Burrows are often near other rabbits, more social
  • Some varieties domesticated

Gather some images of hares and rabbits and create a chart. See if you can find even more differences between hares and rabbits.

This video shows some of Professor Mills's students research. Note:  There are scenes of animal fur left behind by predators and also of animals in live traps. You should always preview videos to make sure they are appropriate for your child.

Related:

  1. Camouflage-related science activities at PBS Parents.

2. Review of Sneed Collard's Fire Birds at Wrapped in Foil blog. See other books by the same author, such as

Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts by Sneed B. Collard III, in which he describes his adventures growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly when visiting his dad who was a biologist.

 

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (November 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0984446060
ISBN-13: 978-0984446063

3. Growing list of children's books about polar habitats

polar-habitats
Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.