Regarding groundhogs, knowing is half the battle. I’ve found that you don’t need to catch these critters red-handed to confirm their presence. Your own eyes and a bit of detective work around the yard are usually enough.

In my experience, the telltale signs are pretty clear: tunnels, dens, and nibbled plants in the garden. Let’s walk through what to look for — you’ll be spotting groundhog evidence in no time.

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What Are Groundhogs?

Groundhogs (sometimes called woodchucks) belong to the classification of marmots: large rodents that gorge themselves during the spring and summer and then hibernation occurs during the winter.

They look like giant, obese squirrels and are great diggers. Often confused with whistle pigs or gophers, groundhogs have thick tails and rough coats of fur, which range in color from brown, to brownish-gray, to black.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, this is the same animal as the famous Punxsutawney Phil — Pennsylvania’s (and maybe the world’s) most famous groundhog on the holiday Groundhog Day in America and Canada.

On this day, the groundhog leaves its burrow and if it sees a shaddow, it means there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If it doesn’t see its shadow, there will be an early spring – supposedly.

Regular groundhogs, however, aren’t as comfortable around humans as Punxsutawney Phil, and not nearly as neatly-groomed. Here’s what you need to look for if you think you see one in your yard: they can be identified by their long, sharp front teeth and are the largest member of the squirrel family.


Why Do Groundhogs Like Your Yard?

The regular yards of homeowners are attractive because of the sheer amount of food available. Groundhogs have no sense of personal property, so they don’t think twice about eating plants from gardens.

In particular, they like fresh fruits, vegetables, and weeds like dandelions. They are primarily herbivores but sometimes eat insects when hungry.

Also, if you have tall grasses where groundhogs can take shelter, they will be happy to use this area as a place to hide out from predators, as explained in the video below.


What Does A Groundhog Tunnel Look Like?

Groundhog tunnels look a lot like those made by moles: they are several inches wide, several feet long, and totally surrounded by dirt.

Some people estimate the circumference of the tunnel entrance could be between 10–12 inches around. These tunnels usually open near a garden and can be hard to see under the regular sections of the yard. Groundhogs are non-confrontational and prefer to spend as little time around humans as possible, so they create the entrances to their tunnels as covertly as possible.

Do Tunnels Connect?

Some groundhog tunnels do connect while others don’t.

Sometimes, homeowners can find one tunnel which leads from the garden or food source and straight to the den or the main living quarters.


What Does A Groundhog Den Look Like?

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Groundhog dens, in a word, are massive. They range in size from 8 to 66 ft. and feature multiple entrances and exits. Some sections branch off into toilet chambers while the main area serves as a sleeping spot. It’s not uncommon for a groundhog to have more than one den in case its main den gets destroyed.

How Many Groundhogs Live In A Single Den?

Groundhogs are not social creatures. Males live solitary lives and only encounter females during the mating season. A cute fact about these animals is that the males will go around to the local females in the area and introduce themselves before picking a female to mate with.

Female woodchucks are a little different. The young stay with their mother for 2 months before they leave and make their own homes. They learn the skills they need to survive in about 4 weeks and are gradually weaned from milk onto soft foods such as dandelions.


What Does Groundhog Damage Look Like?

Groundhog damage is very distinctive. You’ll likely see tunnel openings scattered throughout the yard and bites taken out of your garden fruits and vegetables. In addition, these animals will eat the tops of dandelions, carrots, and flowers.

Other important signs of damage include sinking foundations and yard buildings like tool sheds. The animals will carve their tunnels under buildings or wherever they need to go to create the shortest path to food. They come out during the early morning and the early evening hours, and can hurt other animals or even your pets.

People can usually step into groundhog holes as well and might hurt themselves. It’s not unheard of to accidentally step in a groundhog hole and twist your ankle or even break your leg!


What To Do When You Find Signs Of A Groundhog?

Once you know there is a groundhog in your yard, you can catch it to release it later or remove it yourself. You will also want to take measures to keep groundhogs away from your yard to prevent reoccurring groundhog issues. You have a few options available: call a pest control company, use a trap, or gas the groundhog tunnels to kill any of the animals in the area.

For inexperienced people, calling a professional is probably your best bet. If you want to trap or gas the groundhog, you need to check the local laws in your area because some states make it illegal to trap or kill large animals like woodchucks and raccoons.

Trapping vs. Gassing

The decision to trap or gas comes down to whether you are willing to kill the groundhog. Most traps cost upwards of $50 and look like metal cages, which can be opened and closed by a spring-loaded door. These traps have handles so that the user can bring the trapped animal to a wildlife reserve for release.

Gas bombs are less expensive but more difficult to use. They are relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of a trap, and need to be lowered into an active groundhog tunnel. They work by releasing a toxic gas and will kill any animals in the tunnels.


How to Prevent Groundhogs

In my years of dealing with groundhog problems, I’ve found that prevention is often the best cure. Here are some effective strategies I recommend to keep these critters from making your yard their home:

  1. Fencing: Install a sturdy fence that extends at least 12 inches underground. Make sure it’s at least 3 feet high, as groundhogs are surprisingly good climbers.
  2. Remove attractants: Keep your yard tidy. Maintain wooded areas. Remove brush piles, tall grass, and overgrown areas where groundhogs might feel safe.
  3. Secure your garden: Use hardware cloth to create a barrier around your vegetable garden. Bury it at least 12 inches deep and extend it about 12 inches above ground.
  4. Natural repellents: Plant strong-smelling herbs like lavender, mint, or oregano around your property. Groundhogs aren’t fans of these scents.
  5. Motion-activated sprinklers: These can startle groundhogs and discourage them from hanging around.
  6. Eliminate food sources: If you have fruit trees, pick up fallen fruit promptly. Consider removing bird feeders temporarily if groundhogs are a persistent problem.
  7. Seal off potential den sites: Block off areas under decks, sheds, or porches with hardware cloth or fencing.

Remember, consistency is key when it comes to groundhog prevention. Implement these measures and maintain them regularly for the best results. In my experience, a combination of these strategies often works better than relying on just one method.


Frequently Asked Questions

What attracts groundhogs to your yard?

In my experience, groundhogs are drawn to yards that offer both food and shelter. They love vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and lush lawns with plenty of clover.

Overgrown areas, woodpiles, or spaces under decks and sheds are particularly attractive as they provide ideal spots for building dens. Essentially, if your yard looks like a buffet and a cozy hotel to a groundhog, you’re more likely to have visitors.


Are groundhogs good or bad to have around?

This is a question I get a lot, and the answer isn’t always straightforward. On the positive side, groundhogs can help aerate soil with their burrow systems, and they’re part of the local ecosystem.

However, their extensive tunneling can damage lawns, compromise building foundations, and create tripping hazards. They can also wreak havoc on gardens and crops. In most residential settings, the cons tend to outweigh the pros.


What do groundhogs eat?

Groundhogs are primarily herbivores. I’ve seen them feast on a wide variety of plants, including vegetables, fruits, and flowers. They’re particularly fond of leafy greens, beans, peas, and carrots.

They’ll also munch on grass, clover, and tree bark. Occasionally, they might snack on insects, but plants make up the bulk of their diet.


How do you know if you have a groundhog?

Look for these telltale signs:

  1. Large burrow entrances, about 10–12 inches in diameter
  2. Mounds of excavated earth near burrow entrances
  3. Worn paths between groundhog burrows and feeding areas
  4. Damage to garden plants, especially cleanly cut stems
  5. Tooth marks on wooden structures or trees
  6. Droppings that are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch long and shaped like thick, short sausages

If you spot the animal, look for a large, chunky rodent with reddish-brown fur, short ears, and a bushy tail.


Do you need to get rid of groundhogs?

Whether you need to remove groundhogs depends on your specific situation. If they’re causing significant damage to your property or posing safety risks with their burrows, then yes, removal might be necessary. However, if they’re not causing problems and you don’t mind sharing your space, it’s possible to coexist.

In my professional opinion, if groundhogs are damaging structures, gardens, or creating hazardous holes, it’s best to take action. This doesn’t always mean removal — sometimes, exclusion methods and habitat modification can solve the problem. Always check local regulations before trying any removal, as laws regarding wildlife vary by location.



Final Thoughts About Identifying a Groundhog

Once you know you have a groundhog, you can identify where it lives and then make a decision about how to handle the situation. If you are uncomfortable with trapping or gassing make sure to call a professional, who can work with you further to give you some options.

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Article Update Log
7/3/2024
Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Coty Perry.
Editorial Contributors
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Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management.

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Coty Perry

Expert Writer & Reviewer

Coty Perry is a lawn and garden writer for Today’s Homeowner. He focuses on providing homeowners with actionable tips that relate to the “Average Joe” who is looking to achieve a healthier and greener lawn. When he isn’t writing he can almost always be found coaching youth football or on some trail in Pennsylvania in search of the next greatest fishing hole.

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