The Harold Ramis film Groundhog Day is set against the backdrop of Punxsutawney, PA – a village of wholesome goodness and rural charm. In fact, that’s what makes Bill Murray’s nasty Phil Connors character so funny. He is totally out of place amid the G-rated innocence of townsfolk, waiting for Phil (the groundhog) to emerge from hibernation.
But experts now think Punxsutawney Phil has a reason for stepping outside in February – and it’s not so family-friendly after all.
The revelation? Male groundhogs emerge briefly in February to meet chicks (of their own species, of course) and strike up fast, fleeting relationships which are then consummated in March.
On February 1st and 2nd of each year, thousands of tourists travel to Punxsutawney for a celebration on Gobbler’s Knob. But the ceremony never mentions the animals’ real reason for emerging, perhaps because there are children present – or because researchers are still learning how the groundhog’s mating habits work.
Hibernation involves drops in body temperature, pulse, and breathing rate for the animals throughout winter. The benefits include preserving body fat, and saving energy during a time of limited available food. But for reasons zoologists are still piecing together, male groundhogs experience sexual arousal in midst of their long respite.
The furry fellows then emerge around Groundhog Day, but not to give people a hint about upcoming weather. Instead, the brief jaunt gives the male mammals a chance to socialize with furry female counterparts, whom they normally do not get along with. After mating, the females resume having a largely aloof relationship with quickly-disinterested males.
Perhaps humans and groundhogs have a lot in common.