February 2, 2012 - Marmot Day in Alaska

and Hedgehog Day

In an earlier post, I wrote about today's main U.S. holiday, Groundhog Day. This is the day that an overlarge rodent comes out of his hole and supposedly predicts the weather. (If it's a clear day and the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; if it's cloudy and the groundhog doesn't see its shadow, spring is almost here.) I didn't realize that this holiday got started in ancient Roman times, but with an entirely different animal: the hedgehog!

On the night of February 2, in Roman times, a hedgehog is brought out of its burrow to see if there is a moon-shadow. The shadow-spotting and weather-forecasting was probably a nighttime event because hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means that they sleep during the day and are active at night.

It is natural enough that people who celebrated this custom in Europe changed from hedgehogs to groundhogs, because there are no hedgehogs native to North or South America. (Nor are there hedgehogs in Australia. But there are 17 different species of hedgehogs in Europe, Asia, and Africa.)

Neither hedgehogs nor groundhogs live in Alaska, but Alaska marmots do! (In order to honor their own native ground squirrel, Alaskans have swapped out Groundhog Day for Marmot Day.

(Actually, groundhogs are a kind of marmot. Alaska marmots are a different species of marmots.)

Alaska marmots, like many other marmot species in the world, live in rocky areas and eat grass, flowering plants, berries, roots, moss, and lichen.

Also on this date:

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