By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
His name isn't Punxsutawney Phil, but North Georgia's 'Yonah' is ready for Groundhog Day
01292022 GROUNDHOG 4.jpg
Yonah, a five-year-old groundhog at North Georgia Wildlife Park, will look for his shadow in a virtual event Feb. 2, 2022, to predict the arrival of spring. Photo courtesy North Georgia Wildlife Park
Groundhog Day Livestream

What: Yonah the groundhog looks for his shadow to predict winter’s fate in North Georgia Wildlife Park’s virtual Groundhog Day event

When: 8 a.m. Feb. 2

Watch: tinyurl.com/Groundhog-Stream

Will winter prevail another six weeks, or are hints of springtime unfurling around the corner? North Georgia will soon find out with the help of its annually consulted meteorologist, Yonah the groundhog.

Housed at North Georgia Wildlife Park in Cleveland, five-year-old Yonah — and possibly his shadow — will determine winter’s fate via Facebook Live Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 8 a.m., giving a virtual spin to the Groundhog Day tradition.

According to Rachel Smith, the zoo’s education director, Yonah may require some coaxing to emerge from his burrow, given that groundhogs’ five-month hibernation period doesn’t end until March, so the zoo has his favorite snacks — corn and bananas — at the ready.

Rather than fully hibernating, beginning in October Yonah enters what’s known as torpor, a lighter state of sleep involving lowered body temperature and metabolic activity. While waiting for the weather to warm up, Yonah will spend most of his time napping, rising to wet his whistle and get a bite to eat before slipping into another slumber.

“That’s part of the anticipation and fun of the event — he is an animal and animals are sometimes unpredictable, so we have to kind of do it on his time,” Smith said. “It could take a few minutes or it could take 30 seconds.”

01292022 GROUNDHOG 2.jpg
Yonah, a five-year-old groundhog at North Georgia Wildlife Park, will look for his shadow in a virtual event Feb. 2, 2022, to predict the arrival of spring. Photo courtesy North Georgia Wildlife Park

Groundhogs are a branch of the Sciuridae family tree of small and medium-sized rodents, and their teeth are a dentist’s dream. According to the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, a groundhog’s teeth never stop growing; their upper and lower incisors in particular, which average a length of 4 inches, can grow up to 1/16 in. every week. To keep their pearly whites filed and healthy, groundhogs gnaw on leaves, grass and roots.

According to Smith, Yonah’s best years are still ahead of him; in the wild, groundhogs’ average lifespan is three to five years, but in human care, they’re able to thrive for a decade or more.

On Wednesday, Yonah will share the spotlight with the zoo’s honey badgers, who reportedly predate groundhogs as weather forecasters in German folklore, according to The Guardian.

Wednesday’s event, according to Smith, builds upon the zoo’s mission to bring people and animals together.

“We care about people and animals, we want to connect people to the animals and to conserve both species and our planet,” she said. “By doing (the Groundhog Day event), it fits our mission to connect people to this animal in a unique way that they’re going to remember, and that helps people to appreciate animals a bit more and want to take care of our planet.”

For more information on the zoo’s virtual Groundhog Day event, visit facebook.com/nogawild.