Itâ€™s Groundhog Day, and the big tossup is back: Will the hog see his shadow?
Professor of biology Greg Florant scoffs at the question. His research takes him into the depths of what he calls â€œanimal energeticsâ€ â€“â€“ physiological processes of small mammals, particularly the yellow-bellied marmot and the golden-mantled ground squirrel.
Florant is no stranger to the hibernation cycle of these animals, and he laughs about the groundhog myth.
â€œThese animals donâ€™t come out of hibernation until late March or early April,â€ Florant says. And, he adds, they donâ€™t come out to observe their shadow â€“â€“ they come out to check out the ladies, with â€œreproduction on the brain.â€
But Florant has more information still that debunks the groundhog tale.
â€œItâ€™s a common misconception that they just disappear, go to sleep and donâ€™t come back until spring,â€ he says.
Hibernating animals actually go through a â€œtorpor bout,â€ during which their body temperature lowers to about zero degrees Celsius, he says. Every week or so, they re-warm themselves to normal temperatures â€“â€“ about 36 degrees Celsius or 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit â€“â€“ for a few hours.
They donâ€™t eat, they donâ€™t come out â€“â€“ they just warm up, and then go back into torpor.
Thatâ€™s a phenomenon that scientists call the â€œmystery of the arousal,â€ Florant says. â€œNobody knows why they do that.â€
When asked about the over-abundant supply of squirrels that CSU harbors that have clearly been up and active around campus, Florant laughs. â€œThose are tree squirrels,â€ he explains. â€œThey donâ€™t hibernate.â€
As his last case, Florant pulls out the calendar. â€œIf you just count,â€ he says, counting from Monday through the first day of spring, March 21, â€œit doesnâ€™t matter if he sees his shadow or not. There are six more weeks of winter, anyway.â€
But in his personal opinion?
â€œWeâ€™re going to have a hard winter,â€ he says. â€œNone of my marmots will get up anytime soon.â€
Experts and novices alike share that sentiment.
â€œPunxsutawney Phil almost always sees his shadow,â€ said state Climatologist Nolan Doesken. â€œItâ€™s sort of rigged, you know â€¦ Phil is in Pennsylvania, and in Pennsylvania, itâ€™s cloudy a lot of the time.â€
Doesken gave a fairly good prediction for the upcoming weather, though he was aware of the skepticism surrounding Colorado weathermenâ€™s accuracy.
â€œWe often make it until March before we start having the whopping rapid extreme changes in weather and then our big spring snow storms,â€ he said. February, though, is a usually dry month â€“â€“ or in his words, â€œkinda ho-hum.â€
â€œHaving said that, itâ€™ll probably snow on Feb. 21 or something,â€ he said, laughing. â€œYou canâ€™t predict Mother Nature.â€
The real concern, Doesken said, is for the mountains. There hasnâ€™t been as much snow as ski-fanatics and regular Joes alike have come to expect, and, he said, that means thereâ€™s a whole lot of winter ahead, even past March or February.
â€œGroundhog or not, it will snow. It always snows,â€ said sophomore economics major Dana Brighton. â€œWinterâ€™s not over. Itâ€™s Colorado.â€
Staff writer Sara Michael can be reached at email@example.com.