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Desert Diary


Time to celebrate, because it's Groundhog Day! At least, if you live where they have groundhogs. In such places, the groundhog, also known as the Woodchuck or the Marmot, is reputed to poke its head out of its burrow and if it sees its shadow, goes back to sleep because there will be 6 more weeks of winter.

Not only do we lack groundhogs in the Chihuahuan Desert, we almost don't have winter. But, things weren't always this way. The western equivalent of the groundhog is the Yellow-bellied Marmot, and it doesn't get closer to our desert than the southern end of the Rockies in northern New Mexico. Back in the Ice Ages, however, when much of what is now desert did have a real winter, marmots came far south, and their remains are common in many caves in the northern part of the desert. When winter left, the marmot left, too. Alas, this mammal was out of a job in our desert!
pen and ink

Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

photo of yellow-bellied marmot

A Yellow-bellied Marmot (after Howell, 1915).



Howell, A. H. 1915. Revision of the American Marmots. North American Fauna No. 37:1-80, Pls. I-XV.

Web Resources

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club