January 31, 2023
In honor of Groundhog Day, we spoke with Christine Maher, who holds a Ph.D. in animal behavior and has spent several years studying a group of groundhogs in Falmouth. She is also a Biology Professor at the University of Southern Maine.
Maher first became interested in studying animal populations during graduate school, and studied pronghorn antelope out west. Once she moved to Maine, she chose to study groundhogs after becoming interested in their varying behavioral patterns.
“I’ve been studying groundhogs since I came to Maine in 1998, and in that time I’ve learned so much. I’ve become very interested in knowing more about how kinship affects where they live and interactions with each other.”
Through her studies, she’s learned that their behavior tends to be less predictable than other mammals and that groundhogs are a lot more social than previously thought.
She’s found that many of the groundhogs choose to settle down, have children and raise families in the same place they were born, while some chose to leave. Over time, she’s begun to see the extended family network build out.
“It’s kind of like a soap opera out there because every year is different. I keep going back to see who chose to leave, who reproduced, who survived and who disappeared. All these changes provide me further insight into their behavioral patterns.”
Maher said that sometimes groundhogs will get into people’s gardens and underneath their homes. If this happens to someone, it’s important not to relocate the animal, as it makes them susceptible to predators.
For Maher, studying groundhogs has given her a deeper appreciation for them. She’s begun to realize that many of their behavioral patterns feel similar to how humans behave.
“When you see them, you know there’s more than meets the eye. They aren’t just chopping dandelions in their yards. They have intricate social lives and neighbors. They are unique creatures with a lot to teach us.”