Latest local groundhog is not too shabby at predicting arrival of Spring

| 03 Feb 2019 | 05:03

The temperature was barely in the single digits as Stonewall V, Space Farms’ resident furry prognosticator, was stirred from his den on Groundhog’s Day for his annual weather prediction. Securely held by owner Parker Space, the rotund rodent looked around and blinked his eyes against the bright morning sun. Seeing his shadow outlined against a gleaming snowbank, he quietly nestled into Space’s arms as if to say, “Can I go back inside now?”
The folklore surrounding Groundhog’s Day is rooted in a German tradition which began by using a hedgehog as an indicator of an early spring. There is even an adage in German which translates to, “If the hedgehog sees his shadow at Candlemas, he will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.”
Candlemas, a holy day celebrated in the Catholic Church, falls on Feb. 2, which is also the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Once Germans who had emigrated to America realized there were no indigenous hedgehogs, a suitable substitute needed to be found. In Pennsylvania, German settlers stumbled upon the groundhog, and humbly began what has grown into the large, distinctly American Groundhog’s Day celebrations we see today. From Punxsutawney Phil, who lives a life a luxury in a library and draws thousands of visitors each year, to Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee, generations of the large rodents have been forecasting the weather all over the country since the 1840s.
Sussex County’s own wily woodchuck, Stonewall V, is on his 3rd year of predictions. His predecessor, Stonewall IV, sadly passed of old age on Feb. 1, 2016, the day before his yearly spotlight. Parker Space talked a bit about the species, and where the folklore may tie into biology.
“These guys hibernate,” Space said, “and they tend to be a bit sluggish this time of year. But it’s also the beginning of their breeding season, so if the weather warms up, they may wake up and go looking for a mate.”
“If they are poking their heads out of their dens the beginning of February,” he explained, “it means it was warm enough to rouse them, and spring may be on it’s way. If they decide it’s still too cold, they’ll go back in and go back to sleep.”
Space said that groundhogs have a natural life span of 6-7 years, barring predation by hawks or coyotes, or elimination by farmers. Stonewall V, who will be three this year, has been mated with the zoo’s female woodchuck, Jenny. With a gestational period of over a month, visitors will have to come by Space Farms in the spring to see if the next generation Stonewall is apprenticing to become a meteorologist.
According to Space, the zoo’s groundhogs have fared well in their 25 years of predicting the weather.
“My dad (Fred Space) began doing this with Stonewall I, and over the years, they’ve been about 80 percent accurate. That’s a better record than (Punxsutawney) Phil.”