A Crazy Groundhog Lived on My Roof
I'll show the suckers who's boss!
Yes, you read that right!
A groundhog set up housekeeping on my roof.
She dug herself a huge burrow and had a litter of babies that are now plaguing us. If you haven’t been following my other articles, I live in an underground house on a hilltop overlooking the Arkansas River. We get all kinds of interesting things going on up here, spiders living in litterboxes, groundhogs on roofs, turtles falling into the atrium just to name a few. Yes, before you ask, we mow the roof.
It all started when I noticed a large hole dug in the dirt covering one of the domes that compose my house. The location is on one side of the dome, so this dirt is no more than 2 feet deep. I warned the lawn boy to be careful to not fall into the hole and break a leg while mowing the grass on the roof. We speculated over what kind of animal made the hole and decided that it was a groundhog. Moles don’t make holes that deep, and their tunnels are raised above the ground.
A few days later the hole had extended to beneath the flower bed. Later on in the summer, at least one-third of the flower bed was gone, and so were the flowers on one side. We have no idea what the groundhog did with the dirt, but she probably ate the tulip bulbs.
The flowerbed was pretty
Groundhog's gotta go!
“I’m goin’ to kill that damned groundhog, she’s just doing too much damage,” my husband spouted. He went on to describe that she was probably pregnant and that there would be chucklings* that would add to the damage.
“No,” I protested, “you can’t kill her. She’s a living animal.”
“A living animal that needs to be dead,” He shouted back at me.
She survived, and today if I had it to do over, I might agree with him. Whether I won the argument or not, or whether he couldn’t catch her out of the den, I don’t know, but I think it was the latter.
One nice warm summer evening, and I might add, daylight savings time, I drove in after a very satisfying Saturday of shopping, and there sat a big fat gray animal on the roof just a few feet from the railing that keeps animals like her from falling in (See photo). At first I wasn’t sure what it was. The only groundhogs I’d ever seen were not solid gray. When I was a child, a friend’s parents used a groundhog pelt the color of a raccoon or a tabby cat for a rug in their bedroom. But still, I reasoned that the animal nonchalantly sitting on the roof must be the groundhog.
Since I drive a Prius hybrid that noiselessly glides into the driveway, she was not frightened by the noise, or at least I thought that was why she didn’t run. I sat dumbfounded for a few moments, which probably wasn’t as long as it seemed to me. She looked at me and did not move a hair. I wasn't very far away, but I couldn’t read the expression on her face (do groundhogs have expressions?). Her body language was another story. She went from nonchalance to insolence in a heartbeat. “This is my home, and I’m not budging,” she made her point quite well.
This was a photo op I could not miss. As I fumbled for my purse to retrieve my smart phone to get the picture, my husband came rumbling up in his noisy Dodge Ram. I figured that the noise would scare her off, but low and behold, she gave me a most insolent look and started a slow amble toward her hole. Then she stopped and glared at me, and I would swear on a stack of Bibles that she was daring me to try to run her off. I’m just glad she didn’t have a pistol, or she might have pulled it out and shot me.
Not your garden variety behavior
Field biologists report that groundhogs may hide when they see, smell or hear the observer. Matilda's behavior was not typical.
Have you ever heard of a groundhog living on a roof?
Anyway, she turned back, finished the walk to her burrow and disappeared inside. I was surprised because when Mr. B got out of the truck, I thought she would tuck tail and run, but she didn’t. Every step was a study in dignity. It was then I named her Matilda. All dignified animals gotta have a name.
I was flabbergasted! “Did you see that?” I asked.
“Yes, I saw that #$%^ animal. I wish I’d had my gun,” he grumbled. Every time Matilda was mentioned around our house, his reaction was the same. Not thinking about the chucklings, I agreed that he could trap Matilda and carry her to a new home at least 20 miles away. But lucky for Matilda and unlucky for us, our live animal trap was too small for an animal as large as Matilda to crawl inside.
I can assume only that Matilda raised her chucklings undisturbed by the local cats and dogs, including the two little yappers that live across the street. Heck, she could have eaten them for dinner had she been so inclined.
We’d more or less forgotten about the groundhogs until one August evening I pulled into the driveway just in time to see one of the little ones come over the rooftop. As soon as it saw my car, it doubled back on itself, just like in the cartoons, and disappeared back the way it came. I had no idea that groundhogs could move so fast. We sighted a chuckling or two a few times after that incident, but unlike their mother, they were skittish. Then with the onset of winter we forgot about them.
Back of my underground house
I thought that Matilda and the chucklings moved on, but then spring came. At least one of them invaded a room that was originally a greenhouse. It has a dirt floor in which the former owner grew plants, or at least attempted to grow them in the red clay. The South end of the floor now has a furrow as deep and wide as the former flowerbed outside, and most of the plants that we wintered in the room disappeared, leaving bare pots. I certainly hope the little nuisances enjoyed their feasts. Only the elephantine yuccas remain. I guess the spiny leaves and stems discourage even the most determined rodent.
Groundhogs dig many tunnels to and from their burrows. In addition to the tunnel in the front flower bed and the tunnel into the greenhouse, we found one dug into our atrium and a very large one dug into the side of the mountain on the vacant wooded lot next door. The atrium tunnel was a small one, and I saw a chuckling escape into it one day when I stepped out of our front door. Oh, no, I thought, now even the babies are tunneling. Even I was starting to get worried. This was more serious than a family of moles.
Corner of the greenhouse
The greenhouse is attached to our house. This big tunnel constituted an invasion of MY personal space. I intend to convert it to a sunroom with new windows and a tile floor. This time a groundhog has gone too far. This means war! I agree with Mr. B ... the #$%^&* groundhog's gotta go.
Typical stompin' grounds of groundhogs
Some facts about groundhogs
- Scientific name is Marmota monax, but they are also known as woodchucks or whistlepigs.
- Largest member of the squirrel family (a ground squirrel?)
- Average weight of a groundhog is 6 to 12 lbs, but in areas with few or no predators, they can grow as large as 31 lbs.
- Average lifespan is three years in the wild, but they can live up to six years
- Litters usually number about six
- Young groundhogs are sometimes known as chucklings
- Groundhogs hibernate
One hot summer day in 2018, we found Matilda's body on our back deck. She was apparently trying to make it home via the greenhouse tunnel. We don't know why she died, but hopefully, she had lived out her lifespan and died a natural death. She would have been elderly by groundhog standards. There were no marks on her body and no evidence of poison. We figured that the chucklings would hang around to plague us, but we never saw any of them again after their mother's death. They really were cute little things, and I would have missed them if they had not been so destructive.
Update 2020 -- A Whistle Pig in My Atrium
Apparently I wrote the Epilog too soon. I was sitting at my computer in my office accompanied by my little black buddy, Tas Too, who was occupying his favorite spot on the printer table by the window. Tas doesn't meow, but he makes a sound like a click, usually a "yik". I heard him yikking at something outside and looked to see what was in the atrium. Probably a bird, I thought, but it didn't have feathers and it was big and gray.
At first I thought that somehow our other cat, Cici, had gotten outside. Then I realized it was much larger than Cici. It was a groundhog eating the blackberry vines that Larry had promised to cut in the atrium. She/he/it, for a better word, hung around for several minutes, allowing me to get a couple of photos through the fogged window. Then it ambled off in the direction of a tunnel that a chuckling had dug through the bottom of the atrium a couple of years ago. That means that one or more groundhogs had tunneled under our house because the atrium is completely surrounded by concrete.
This groundhog was as large as Mother Matilda, probably between 30 and 40 lbs., which means that we will have to scout for a groundhog before we let the cats out into the atrium for a little sunshine and nibbling their favorite grass. Meanwhile, Tas stopped his clicking and plopped back down. Even he realized he was no match for an animal about four times his weight.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Doris James MizBejabbers