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Does a hedgehog count?

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Wood.chuck (chuk') - A common burrowing rodent (marmot monax) of northern and eastern North America, having short-legged, heavy-set body and grizzled brownish fur. Also called groundhog; also called regionally whistle pig - The American Heritage Dictionary

We dug and we dug and we dug, but no groundhog.

We dug and we dug and we dug, but no groundhog.

We dug and we ...

If you've seen the movie "Groundhog Day," you know where that was going.

If you haven't, well, the repetition is still a good way to explain our search for today's honored rodent.

Today is Groundhog Day, and if you got up this morning and turned on the TV, you might already know whether Puxatawny Phil crawled from the Pennsylvania ground and saw his shadow at approximately 4:25 a.m. Pacific Time, indicating six more weeks of winter.

But here in Lane County, all Pine Cone the hedgehog did Wednesday was relieve herself on the counter at Zany Zoo Pets on West 11th Avenue.

That's where Patty Rushford, a clerk at the store, comes in, armed with a paper towel.

Such is the curse of a pet-store employee. And, no, Pine Cone did not see her shadow - as far as we know - because Wednesday's glorious morning sunshine was gone by the time we arrived in the afternoon.

Groundhogs are native to Canada and the eastern and midwestern United States. That largely explains why we could not find one on Wednesday. But we thought someone might have imported one, you know.

"No," said a man named Johnny who answered the phone at McKenzie Animal Hospital in Springfield, when asked if they had a groundhog we could visit. "But I might have a cute little `Yorkie' you could dress up as a groundhog."

No thanks.

"I could go out and shoot a gopher," said a woman named Margaret, poking fun at our question as she answered the phone at Animal Health Associates in Eugene.

That might not be such a great idea.

``We don't have one at the moment, but let me look up on the board and see if there's one for adoption,'' said a woman who answered the phone at Eugene's City Center Cat & Bird Clinic.

"Nope," she said. ``But you might try Greenhill (Humane Society).''

They were closed Wednesday.

"I'd rather have a skunk than a groundhog," said Pat Patterson of the Lane County Extension Service, when we called to inquire about groundhogs.

Why is that?

"Because they bite," she said. "And they carry bubonic plague. Or is it pneumonic plague?"

Neither sound like much fun.

Although she knew of no one locally who had a groundhog, nor had she ever seen one around, Patterson speculated that someone in Oregon must surely have one.

"People in Oregon have almost anything as a pet," she said. "Mountain lions, bear cubs, groundhogs, hedgehogs ...''

But did you know this? Did you know that a groundhog and a woodchuck are the same thing?

And how much ground could a groundhog hog if a groundhog could hog ground?

Yes, groundhogs are woodchucks and woodchucks are groundhogs and they're one in the same and they're marmots. And what the heck is a marmot?

"Any of various stocky, coarse-furred, burrowing rodents of the genus Marmota, having short legs and ears and short bushy tails and found throughout the Northern Hemisphere," according to the American Heritage Dictionary.

Groundhogs are also known in the Appalachian Mountains as "whistle pigs," because of the sound they make.

The term "groundhog" goes back as far as the 1740s, according to the Web site, answers.com.

It might be a translation from the Dutch word, aardvarken, meaning "earth pig," or it might have just been inspired by the observation "that this pudgy rodent burrows in the ground," the explanation says.

A hedgehog, however, is not a marmot.

It's an insectivorous mammal native to Africa and very similar to a porcupine in appearance, with its dense erectile spines sprouting out from its back.

A hedgehog is also a well-fortified military position, but that's another story.

Pine Cone is one of eight hedgehogs at Zany Zoo Pets. Someone brought her in a while back and donated her to the store, said Abbie McClain, who owns the store with her husband, Nathan.

But, no, a hedgehog won't do today.

Still Rushford, the store clerk, tried to be helpful:

``Couldn't you just pretend that a big fat guinea pig is a groundhog?''

CAPTION(S):

With no groundhog handy, Abbie McClain, co-owner of Zany Zoo Pets, gives Pine Cone the hedgehog a chance to see her shadow. G r o u n d h o g D a y
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Title Annotation:Weather; There's no sign of a groundhog in Eugene, let alone its shadow
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 2, 2006
Words:778
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