The Science Behind Groundhog Day!

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Every February 2, Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow in seek of his shadow. The viewing of his shadow predicts whether Winter will be prolonged or cut short to an early Spring. This year, 2017, Phil has seen his shadow and predicts that there will be 6 more weeks of winter. But what kind of science is there behind this type of weather prediction from the famous rodent? 

Groundhogs can’t actually tell us when the change in seasons will happen. But scientists that study the ecology and evolution of the groundhog note that male groundhogs have popped out of their burrows each and every February, to check things out and decide whether or not they should start waking up the female groundhogs to mate. Thus, indicating that Spring is near. 

A longtime study done by Ken Armitage, a professor at the University of Kansas, states that the rodents are now emerging about a month earlier in the spring than they did 30 or 40 years ago. Ken says, “understanding how individual groundhogs respond to environmental change is essential if we want to predict how animals will react to global warming and other human-driven habitat shifts.”

Animal behaviors have been observed for a very long time. For many years people have looked for clues to changes in the weather. The reappearance of hibernating animals like badgers, hedgehogs and even bears was a sign of winter’s end. When German settlers came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, they chose the groundhog as the local announcer of spring. Even today, we watch for animals to indicate the change of seasons. Geese flying south is a sure sign of fall. In the Midwest and Northeast, we wait for the first robin of spring. 

So do you believe that Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of 6 more weeks of winter is true? I guess we shall all have to just wait and see! 

Try some of these Fun, At Home, Shadow science experiments with your kids today:

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