Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Hypothetical Groundhog/Whistlepig Food-snarfing and/or Projectile-projecting (for the Week of March 23, 2008)

March 23, 2008

Q. Dear Twig: If, in fact, a Marmota monax could ingest and/or lob the secondary xylem of trees and shrubs, how much of the secondary xylem of trees and shrubs could a Marmota monax, in fact, ingest and/or lob?

A. Ummm ... what?

Wait. No. Give me a second. "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Is that it? Eh? Cool. Well done.

If it is, here are some answers:

1. They don't. Woodchucks eat leaves, plus bark in a pinch, but not the wood that's under the bark. (Sometimes they do gnaw on wood.) And they make their dens in the ground, not in trees, and heave soil but not timber when they do it.

2. If, in fact, they did eat wood, they'd eat (based on their normal diet) a quarter-pound to a half-pound or more in a day.

3. And if, in fact, they threw the stuff, they'd wing, toss and pitch up to 3,500 pounds in a year (about the weight, say, of a Honda Accord), based on them digging out and kicking away an estimated 700 pounds of soil to make a den, and having up to five dens a year.

Next: When woodchucks need, but don't get, braces!

Twig

P.S. Keen on cheeky wildlife? Chuck out Ohio 4-H project 611, "Let's Explore the Outdoors I"!

Notes: The 700-pounds-per-burrow estimate, now widely used and/or chucked around, comes from a wildlife scientist named Dick Thomas, as reported in the New York Times in 1989 ("Press Won't Chuck That Woodchuck Story"). The five-burrow figure comes from a University of Delaware fact sheet. The food intake figure comes from a Pennsylvania study reported in the Journal of Mammalogy, though the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web says a woodchuck, on some occasions, can eat/snarf/chuck up to 1.5 pounds of food in a day. Cornell University tackles the woodchuck-chucking question, and more, at http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/96/2.1.96/facts.html.

"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at a 4th-grade reading level. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, knebusch.1@osu.edu, (330) 263-3776. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.

Author(s): 
Kurt Knebusch
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