Woodchucks

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Marmota monax UL 19
Figure 1. Woodchuck (Marmota monax). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Learning Objectives 

  1. Explain how the behavior of woodchucks impacts control.  
  2. Communicate options for control to clients.  
  3. Describe some risks posed by woodchucks.  

Identification 

Woodchucks (Marmota monax, Figure 1) are members of the squirrel family and are closely related to other species of North American marmots. They also are known as ground hogs and whistle pigs.  

Legal Status 

Woodchucks are considered either game or unprotected animals in most states. Check your local state regulations. 

Physical Description 

Woodchucks usually are grizzled gray-brown from head to toe. The compact, chunky body is supported by short strong legs. The forefeet have long, curved claws that are well adapted for digging burrows. The tail is short, furred, and dark brown. As with other rodents, woodchucks have yellow-white, chisel-like incisor teeth. The eyes, ears, and nose are located toward the top of the head, allowing the animals to remain concealed in their burrows while checking for danger over the rim or edge.  

Both sexes are similar in appearance, but males are slightly larger. Woodchucks weigh 5 to 10 pounds. The total length of the head and body averages 16 to 20 inches. The tail is 4 to 7 inches long.  

Voice and Sounds 

When startled, a woodchuck may emit a shrill whistle or alarm, proceeded by a low, abrupt “phew,” and followed by a low, rapid warble that sounds like “tchuck, tchuck.” The call usually is made when an animal is startled at the entrance of a burrow. Tooth-popping and chattering may indicate that a bite is eminent.  

Species Range 

Woodchucks occur throughout eastern and central North America, including parts of Alaska, British Columbia, and southern Canada (Figure 2). Their range in the US also includes northern Idaho, northeastern North Dakota, central Nebraska, eastern Kansas, northeastern Oklahoma, and northern Alabama. 

Figure 2. Distribution of the woodchuck in North America. Image by Stephen M. Vantassel. 

Tracks and Signs

Woodchucks can be identified by observing individuals during the day and finding entrances of dens. The presence of flies may signify an active den. Den holes average 10 to 12 inches in diameter with excavated soil in front of the main entrance. 

A woodchuck’s hind feet are 2 to 3 inches long and frequently obscure tracks of the front feet. Tracks may be found in sandy areas (Figure 3). Woodchucks deposit scat underground, making it a rare find.  

Figure 3. Tracks of a woodchuck. Image by Dee Ebbeka.