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Posted at 12:46 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Groundhog Day 2011: Is Punxsutawney Phil the wrong species? (Oh, no!)

By Melissa Bell
hedgehog day
That's the groundhog on the left, the hedgehog on the right. Will the real weather predictor please stand up? (On left: Keith Srakocic/On right: Sarah L. Voisin)

The news from Punxsutawney, Pa., this morning was just what we wanted to hear: Spring will come early this year, thanks to good old Phil predicting the winter, just as he's done for 125 years (longest living groundhog ever?).

Hooray, I thought, gleefully plotting the banishment of my sleeping-bag jacket to the recesses of my closet.

And then National Geographic, that bulwark of bizarre historical trivia, went and ruined everything.

For 125 years, the country has watched Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog with a mission, crawl out of his burrow on Feb. 2. If he sees his shadow, boom, we're stuck with winter for six more weeks. If he doesn't, it means we've got only two more weeks to trudge through (and with the storms that have walloped the country this year, that's happy news).

So what if the National Climatic Data Center says Phil is correct only about 40 percent of the time? The country still believed. The groundhog knew.

But on Wednesday, National Geographic gave us a giant lesson on Phil that totally buried the lead: "Romans also believed that conditions during the first days of February were good predictors of future weather, but the empire looked to hedgehogs for their forecasts."

Hedgehogs? Hedgehogs?! We've been looking to the wrong animal all this time? Turns out when German settlers came to the United States, they couldn't find any hedgehogs, so they settled on groundhogs instead. So that's why we get 40 percent accuracy!

As the descendant of German settlers, I apologize for my ancestors' lazy and sloppy solution to the hedgehog problem.

The Neatorama blog wonders whether we need to start wishing everyone a "Happy Hedgehog Day." I think we need to find a Hedgehog Harry.

If you want to still live in the delusional past when groundhogs were good, here's Phil imitating a hedgehog:

Our awesome reader Manus Ferrea recommends for this theme song for future Hedgehog Days:

Headline updated thanks to the very kind help from Elfiedude who likes to edumakate people.

By Melissa Bell  | February 2, 2011; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Boogie Woogie Hedgehog!!!

Posted by: ManusFerrea | February 2, 2011 1:09 PM | Report abuse

From another post. Legend has it that if you pick up a Groundhog and it gnaws your finger off, it means 6 more weeks of rabies shots.

Posted by: rickmick | February 2, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I would think WashPo reporters would be edumakated enough to know the difference between a Breed and a Species. Apparently not.
Something as simple as this filler piece, and Melissa Bell can't seem to fact check that Hedgehogs are members of the order Erinaceomorpha, and Woodchucks/GroundHogs/Whistle Pigs/Marmots are Rodentia. Two totally different orders of Mammalia.
The reason the Germans couldn't find hedgehogs is because they are non native to the Americas. However marmots ( Marmot marmota) are found in mountainous regions throughout Europe including Germany, and while Ms. Bell's explanation for the confusion is plausible, I am not buying it, since she doesn't know what constitutes a breed or a species and couldn't be bothered to even look them up on Wikipedia.

Posted by: elfiedude | February 2, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

It's not called Hedgehog Day.

Posted by: ggrim2 | February 2, 2011 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Hedgehogs are definitely cuter, but both can predict the weather equally well.

And groundhogs cast bigger, fatter shadows.

Posted by: jKO2010 | February 2, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

My card shop (Card Boulevard) has free Groundhog's Day ecards here:
(just click on the "Groundhog's Day" link.
Here's a direct link to the cards:

A LOT Of cards are being sent today! I think everyone is so sick of this weather...

Posted by: Skanbird | February 2, 2011 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the Germans used badgers, not hedgehogs: “The badger looks out of his hole on Candlemas Day. If he sees snow, he walks abroad; but if he sees the sun, he goes back in.”
And the canny Scots cut out the middle beast all together:
If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter's come and mair;
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half o' winter was gone at Youl.
Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, is also February 2.

Posted by: malusk03 | February 2, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

It's not Groundhog Day, either.

It is actually the First Cross-Quarter Day - the mid-point between the first day ow winter (winter solstice) and the first day of spring (vernal equinox).

First Cross-Quarter Day is REAL, based on the science of astronomy.

It was celebrated as the Feast of the goddess Nut by ancient Egyptians, Lupercalia by the ancient Romans, and as Imbolc as ancient Celtic pagans (and current neo-pagans and Wiccans). Imbolc was associated with weather prognostications: ancient Europeans associated these prognostications with bears and badgers.

In Ireland, the Christian church leaders morphed the Imbolc into St. Brigid's Day by allowing Celts to worship the pagan goddess Brighid as a saint. The day is also known as Candlemas, the purification of the Virgin Mary of Christianity.

Posted by: CellBioProf | February 2, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Groundhog Predicts Early Spring
The world's most famous groundhog, Punxsatawney Phil, has predicted an early end to winter.

Posted by: dbmetzger | February 2, 2011 10:13 PM | Report abuse

See my Groundhog Day Party "conversation" on James Harbeck's Sesquiotica blog at

Posted by: cohenizzy | February 3, 2011 3:19 AM | Report abuse

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