Groundhog Day 2011: Is Punxsutawney Phil the wrong species? (Oh, no!)
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.
| February 2, 2011; 12:46 PM ET
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