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The first known use of the term Woodchuck, according to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary, was in 1674. While no definitive evidence has been presented, the folk etymology (or origin) of woodchuck has nothing to do with wood or chucking. Instead, it is thought to be derived from an Algonquian word: wuchak; akin to the Narragansett ockqutchaun.
Any ground burrowing critter posed a concern for operators on the Erie Canal. Persons with a job such as Pathmaster keep vigilant watch over sections of the towpath and remedied potentially unsafe conditions. A section of the original “Clinton’s Ditch” 1820’s Erie Canal towpath at Schoharie Crossing is affectionately called the “Woodchuck Walk,” and with good reason. Several of these small furry mammals call the site home.
Marmota monax (Linnaeus): otherwise known as a woodchuck, ground-hog or by several other regional terms. They are broad stocky rodents that create living space under-ground and have a coarse yellowish-brown fur, blunt nose and medium to small tail.
Their habitat is generally borders of forested land adjoining open field or meadow space. Woodchucks use their burrows to spend the night, to escape from predators and inclement conditions, to raise young, and to hibernate over winter. They are known in the wild to live up to five or six years and typically can produce three to five offspring per year.
Though mainly solitary creatures, when food resources and safe habitat are plentiful, there may be many in a given area.
While the ‘chucks at Schoharie Crossing have fattened up and are leery eying the grounds, knowing hibernation is at hand and thinking about their re-emergence in the spring, it is fun to remember the creatures you can come across while walking the towpath trails.