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Move over groundhog, it’s Armadillo Day

Jan. 30, 2023 Updated Mon., Jan. 30, 2023 at 7:45 p.m.

Ralph Fisher and Mike Burke pose with the armadillo Bee Cave Bob, who will predict how much longer winter will last.    (Ralph Fisher )
Ralph Fisher and Mike Burke pose with the armadillo Bee Cave Bob, who will predict how much longer winter will last.   (Ralph Fisher )
By Marylou Tousignant Washington Post

While much of the country celebrates Groundhog Day on Thursday, Texas, known for its independent spirit, will go in another direction. There, this annual event in which an animal predicts how much longer winter will last, is called Armadillo Day.

Groundhogs have been doing this job in west-central Pennsylvania for more than 135 years. These furry rodents inhabit much of the Eastern United States but are not found in Texas. So in 2010, Texans chose the nine-banded armadillo, their state’s new official small mammal, as their weathercaster every February 2.

He is named Bee Cave Bob, after the city of his birth. On Groundhog, er, Armadillo Day, Bob is taken outside to fulfill his duty. If it is a clear day and he casts a shadow, the legend says there will be six more weeks of winter. A cloudy day means no shadow … and an early spring.

It is the same ritual that Pennsylvania’s famous groundhog, Punxsutawny Phil, follows. But in the battle of four-legged forecasters, Texas yields to no one. “We don’t need no mangy groundhog in Pennsylvania predicting weather for us,” Terry Boothe, a fifth-generation Texan and Bob’s biggest fan, told reporters last year.

The origin of Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It Day is rooted in Europe several centuries ago, with mainly badgers in the starring role. German-speaking immigrants brought the tradition to Pennsylvania. Finding no badgers, in the 1880s they made the groundhog their go-to animal for winter weather wisdom.

Neither Bee Cave Bob nor Punxsutawny (pungs-soo-TAH-nee) Phil, however, has a great track record. Both are said to be wrong more often than right, but it is a tough call since there is no clear answer as to when winter ends and spring begins.

KidsPost is not taking sides in the groundhog/armadillo debate. Let’s learn more about them so we can appreciate both.

“Armadillo” is Spanish for “little armored one.” Of the 20 species, only one – the nine-banded armadillo – is native to the United States. Bands are movable sections of the mammal’s hard shell.

Nine-banded armadillos grow to about 30 inches long, with an average weight of 12 pounds. Other armadillo species range from 3 inches to 5 feet. Armadillos can live up to 30 years in the wild.

Armadillos mainly eat insects. They have strong claws and can dig burrows 20 feet long, in which they sleep up to 16 hours a day. When threatened, smaller armadillos roll up in a ball and play dead. Larger ones can jump four feet high when scared or surprised.

Armadillos can hold their breath for up to six minutes and walk underwater or float on the surface

Cool fact: Nine-banded armadillos have litters of four identical pups. Quadruplets!

And groundhogs?

These furry rodents, also called woodchucks, are in the squirrel family. They are good swimmers and can climb trees. They feast on grass, other plants, fruit and bark all summer so they can hibernate (be inactive and save energy) all winter.

Groundhogs are similar to armadillos in size, weight and digging skills. Their burrows can be more than 60 feet long, with several rooms and even “bathrooms” (without a toilet and tub, we presume).

They use their sharp claws and teeth to attack crops such as carrots from below, pulling them into their burrows. To reduce wear and tear from all that eating, their front teeth grow 1/16th of an inch each week.

Groundhogs can live up to six years in the wild, although half that age is more common.

Cool fact: A groundhog’s heart rate decreases from 75 beats per minute to four during hibernation.

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