of Rhode Island GreenShare Factsheets
The woodchuck, or groundhog, is a member of the squirrel
family. It has a compact, hefty body, short, strong legs with
long, curved claws on the forefeet for digging and a short
tail. It is heavily furred and dark brown in color, weighs
from 3 to 6 kilograms (5 to 10 pounds) and is 40 to 55 cm (16
to 20 inches) long. Although they are slow runners, woodchucks
are alert and can quickly move into their dens when alarmed.
Woodchucks hibernate during the winter, becoming active
in late February and March. Mating occurs in March and a single
litter of two to four young is produced annually. The young
are weaned by late June or early July, and soon thereafter
strike out on their own--usually occupying old, abandoned dens.
The numerous new burrows which appear during the late summer
are dug by older woodchucks. Woodchucks are active during the
daylight hours, and their range is approximately 16 to 33 meters
(50 to 100 feet) from their dens. The den and burrows are extensive
and may be used for several years. Burrows may be as deep as
1.75 m (5 feet) and up to 20 m (60 feet) in length. Woodchucks
seem to prefer to construct burrows on or near farm land where
crops grow. They frequently may be found in woodlands or in
abandoned farm lands and occasionally in urban areas where
the combination of food and cover provides a satisfactory habitat.
Woodchucks are voracious feeders, feeding actively on
succulent, green vegetation in early morning and evening periods
during summer as they store body fat in preparation for hibernation
during late fall, usually near the end of October or early
November. Woodchucks feed primarily on vegetables, trees, grasses
and legumes. Their favorite foods include various beans, cole
crops, carrot tops, clover, squash and peas. Their gnawing
and clawing can kill young fruit trees. Gnawing occurs on the
main stems of trees and lower branches close to the burrows
and is easily distinguished from vole gnawing by the large
size of the incisor teeth marks (6-10 mm (1/4 to 3/8 inch)
- Wire fencing will help keep woodchucks out of nursery
areas and small gardens. Bury the lower edge 25 to 31 cm (10
to 12 inches) deep in the soil to prevent burrowing under the
fence. Because woodchucks are good climbers, the fence should
be three to four feet high.
- Live trapping is an effective method of reducing woodchuck
numbers in a small area. Live traps may be of the homemade
type or wire mesh commercial variety. The opening for these
traps should be eight inches square or larger. Live traps can
be effectively baited with apples, carrots, green beans, lettuce
or other green vegetables, preferably of the type the woodchucks
are already eating. Traps should be placed at the burrow opening
at dusk when the animal is in the den, in rows where damage
is occurring or other areas the woodchucks frequently travel.
Place guide logs on either side of the path between the burrow
opening and the trap to funnel the woodchucks toward the trap.
Check the trap twice daily. Disposal of trapped woodchucks
presents a problem. They cannot be legally moved elsewhere
in the state and released because of a rabies risk. Drowning
is an option, but woodchucks can apparently live for at least
15 minutes underwater.
- Commercial gas cartridges filled with slow-burning chemicals
are available at garden supply stores. These are ignited and
placed in the burrows and the entrances are sealed. Woodchuck
burrows are distinguished by a large mound of excavated earth
at the main entrance; there are always two or more entrances
to each burrow system. As the cartridges burn, carbon monoxide
and sulfur dioxide fill the tunnels and kill the woodchuck.
Before using these cartridges, read and follow all instructions
and cautions on the label; gas cartridges can pose a fire and
-No poisons or poisonous baits are registered for woodchuck
control in Rhode Island.
Adapted from Norman
L. Gauthier, University of Connecticut Integrated Pest Management
are poisonous! Read and follow all safety precautions on labels.
Handle carefully and store in original containers out of reach
of children, pets or livestock. Dispose of empty containers
immediately, in a safe manner and place. Pesticides should never
be stored with foods or in areas where people eat.
When trade names are used for identification, no product endorsement
is implied, nor is discrimination intended against similar materials.
Be sure that the pesticide you intend to use is registered for
the state of use.
The user of this information assumes all risk for personal injury
or property damage.
information, call the URI CE Gardening and Food Safety Hotline
at 1-800-448-1011 or (401)874-2929 from outside Rhode Island;
Monday-Thursday between 9 am and 2 pm.
of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension provides equal program