Ms. G, the Massachusetts groundhog, sees no shadow, predicting an early spring
Ms. G, Massachusetts’ official state groundhog, didn’t see her shadow Thursday morning – meaning Massachusetts will have an early spring, at least in her opinion.
It’s a Groundhog Day tradition: trusting a small, furry creature to predict the weather – something our meteorologist Dave Epstein is pondering.
“I can calculate things. I know physics and calculus,” Epstein said. “It’s a rodent. It’s a rodent. It lives in the ground.”
Despite this, today is a day for many people to celebrate this rodent. And here in Massachusetts we have our own official state groundhog: Ms. G.
“Groundhogs are amazing creatures,” said Renata Pomponi, senior regional director for Metro Boston at the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
Ms. G. is a wildlife ambassador for Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, which means she travels to meet groups of children and helps them get excited about the outdoors. She has been the official groundhog of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 2014.
Ms. G. lives indoors in winter, where it is warmer and she is fed more regularly. Her favorite foods are kale and broccoli, Pomponi said, and she also likes corn.
Marmots, also known as marmots, belong to the rodent family. Wild marmots are true hibernators, Pomponi said. When the weather gets colder, they go underground into a network of burrows.
“During this time, her heart rate drops to just four beats per minute. Their body temperature drops to around 40 degrees and they basically just hang around during the times when there isn’t much food for them,” Pomponi said.
Every February 2, Ms G. is taken to an outdoor enclosure in front of groups of school children. If she gets nervous and crawls into a burrow – perhaps because she’s seen her shadow – people will interpret that as her prediction announcing six more weeks of winter.
But when she’s enjoying the weather and munching on fresh veggies, it’s a harbinger of early spring, as happened this year.
“I have to say our Mrs G is a fearless marmot. She’s not afraid of anything, but she really likes this fun tradition,” Pomponi said. “I think she’s really enjoying the ceremony: a bit of attention, some cameras on her on this official day for her.”
There is another, better known groundhog that lives in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania and has a significant following. But for a New England forecast, it makes sense to go to a New England groundhog, Pomponi said.
“We believe in local predictions here.” She said. “New Englanders love their weather. So we wanted to have a local forecaster for Groundhog Day, rather than relying on more distant forecasts.”
Groundhog Day in the United States began in the 17th century when German settlers in what is now Pennsylvania introduced this tradition of Candlemas Day halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. In Europe, they would look for a sign of spring in badgers, Pomponi said.
“When the settlers came to America, there weren’t many badgers,” she said. “But they had woodchucks that seemed quite similar to them.”
Groundhogs like Ms G rely on the weather, among other things, for their sense of time, Pomponi said. If the climate changes and warms up, this will also affect marmots.
“If the weather appears warmer in a typical year, marmots may show up earlier. But that doesn’t mean the sustenance they need will necessarily be in sync with that earlier arrival,” Pomponi said.
Pomponi is not among Ms G’s day-to-day caregivers, but she loves interacting with her every year.
“We have a special quality about us,” she said. “I don’t know them as well as their day-to-day caretakers. But on February 2nd she knows that I give her the signal. It’s time to shine.”