In honor of Groundhog Day, I did a quick search through our paleontology collections looking for groundhogs. Groundhogs (Marmota monax) have been reported from four different Pleistocene sites in Virginia, so there was a chance that we would have some. A database search didn’t turn up any, but a large percentage of our collections are not yet in the database, so I went to the Pleistocene cabinets.
After a half-hour of searching, I found the tooth shown at the top of the page. Comparison with a modern groundhog (courtesy of VMNH’s archaeologist Elizabeth Moore) shows that the tooth is an almost perfect match for the right lower fourth premolar; it’s just a bit larger:
Our groundhog tooth is part of a small collection of bones labeled as coming from “Champ Cave”. It was collected some years ago, before I was with the museum and before our records were digitized, so I’m going to have to do some research to find the details on the site. I’m pretty sure the cave is located in Smyth County near the famous Pleistocene deposits in Saltville. It’s most likely early Holocene in age, although many Virginia caves include Pleistocene remains, so it could be older. We have a fair number of bones from other mammals at this site, which might help us determine the age of the deposit. The Saltville area was still experiencing near-Arctic conditions as recently as 14,000 years ago (talk about 6 more weeks of winter!), which had an effect on the faunal makeup.
Happy Groundhog Day!