To scientists, it is known as Marmota monax, or the woodchuck. This medium-sized mammal found from Canada to southern Alabama goes by many common names, including groundhog, hoover pig, whistle pig and marmot. In various parts of Pennsylvania, this ubiquitous herbivore is known as a grundsow. Garden pest or meat for a stew, the groundhog is the ubiquitous animal one often spots in open fields, farmlands, forest clearings and roadsides. With that said, no other animal is so closely tied to weather forecasting as the groundhog. The less well-known derivation for this cultural tradition has an unexpected explanation. After a long and busy spring, summer and fall, the groundhog goes to sleep for the winter, except for a short period when it briefly emerges in search of a mate. Alas, it is not looking for its shadow.
However, here at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, we actually are looking for its shadow. With internal and external expertise, the renovation of the museum’s iconic Mammal Hall is underway with the Gray Fox and Red Fox dioramas already complete. The side along which the Groundhog diorama resides will be completed in January 2017, and Mammal Hall, in its entirety, in January 2018. The attention to detail found within these dioramas remains at the heart of their timelessness. From the correct species of butterflies on the correct species of plants in the correct habitat, to the correct associated season, our shadow-searching friend will have a stellar makeover, but not if he has more than one shadow.
Over the years, the exhibit’s lighting shifted away from the direction of the sun and shadows present in the background artwork. As Stephen Quinn, a member of the diorama renovation team put it, there can only be one sun and, in turn, one direction for shadows. This level of detail speaks to the pride we have in the Mammal Hall renovation project and for the easier time our sun-loving denizen will have finding its one and only shadow.
This Pennsylvania Treasure was written by Dr. Walter Meshaka, Senior Curator of Zoology and Botany at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.