It is safe to say most Georgians have never seen a groundhog. The reason for this is groundhogs are principally residents of the northern quarter of the state. For the rest of us, our best chance of seeing this mammal is to spot one feeding in the grassy shoulder of a North Georgia highway. However, those folks fortunate enough to live in this picturesque swath of the state are well aware of the fact that groundhogs will take up residence in or near backyards.
If you live within the range of the groundhog, you are probably surprised to learn groundhogs are capable of climbing trees since they have stubby legs, weigh up to fourteen pounds, and rarely venture far from their burrows.
Homeowners are not always pleased to find a groundhog living in their backyard. This is because groundhogs eat up to 1.5 pounds of food a day, consuming a variety of plants such ornamental flowers such as roses, and food plants like a beans, strawberries, and carrots. In addition, their burrows sometimes undermine walkways, driveways, as well as building foundations.
However, in some backyards groundhogs are not a problem and provide homeowners with interesting wildlife viewing opportunities. If you watch groundhogs long enough, you may have the rare opportunity to spot a groundhog perched in a tree high above the ground. Groundhogs will climb mostly to either escape a predator or reach food. Both coyotes and dogs prey on adult groundhogs.
With an abundance of food growing close to the ground, it is hard to imagine why a groundhog would climb a tree to feed, but they do. The famous Pulitzer Prize-winning nature writer, Edwin Way Teale, wrote that he once spied a groundhog high above the ground dining grapes hanging from a grapevine that had snaked its way into the tree’s crown.
Climbing up a tree would be hard enough for a groundhog; it seems to me that it would be even hard to climb down again.
Groundhogs in trees? I find it hard to believe a groundhog is capable of such an athletic accomplishment.
From time to time, all backyard wildlife watchers see something that they cannot explain. For example, if gray squirrels frequently visit your feeders, chances are you will eventually spot one that appears to have lumps somewhere on its body. When this happens, it is only human nature to wonder what causes these mysterious lumps. A vast majority of the time, hidden inside each lump is the larva of a parasitic fly known as the squirrel bot fly.
Squirrel bot flies parasitize animals such as gray and fox squirrels, and rabbits. The squirrel bot fly looks much like a bumblebee. However, if you have the rare opportunity to examine one, you will see that it has one set of wings instead of two like the bumblebee.
Adult bot flies live for only two weeks or so. During this brief time, a female must lay her fertilized eggs on the branches of trees and other surfaces. If a squirrel happens by and touches an egg, it rapidly hatches and the larva tries to hitch a ride on the squirrel. The tiny larva must then make its way into the squirrel’s body via a body opening. This often occurs when a squirrel grooms itself and unwittingly swallows a bot fly larva. A larva can also gain access to the body through the bushytail’s eyes.
Once inside, the larva travels through the squirrel’s body before eventually ending up between the animal’s skin and flesh. Here it rapidly grows. As the larva increases in size, it creates a noticeable lump. Many people call these lumps warbles or wolves.
Over time, the liquid-filled lump swells. A bot larva can reach a size of 1.5-inches long and an inch wide. During this period in its life, a larva chews an exit hole in the squirrel’s skin through which it eventually wiggles out and drops to the ground.
Once on the ground it burrows into the soil and pupates. It will remain there until spring when it sheds the covering that protected it throughout the winter and emerges as an adult.
Meanwhile, once a larva leaves a squirrel, the open wound it left behind heals and any hair that was lost while the larva was living just below its skin will regrow.
Fortunately, we, as well as dogs and cats, cannot be infected by coming into contact with a squirrel parasitized by a bot fly.
The amazing drama involving the bot fly and the gray squirrel is played out in countless backyards across Georgia each year. However, I had never seen a “lumpy” squirrel in my yard until this year. Have you ever seen one in your yard? If you have, you now know the answer to a mystery that has confounded many folks for generations.
The majority of the birdbaths placed in Georgia backyards are intended to be used by birds. However, the truth of the matter is many other animals visit them. I think it would be safe to say the “other” animal most often seen at our feeders is the gray squirrel. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how much water a gray squirrel consumes in a day?
It seems that, a gray squirrel needs two to three tablespoons of water per day, however, a number of factors affect the amount of water a squirrel drinks. For example, female gray squirrels nursing young require more water than squirrels not producing milk for their young.
It is interesting to note that, on the average, a gray squirrel drinks twice per day.