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Punxy Phil not that cuddly of a rodent

Commentary

February 2, 2014
Shirley Grenoble , The Altoona Mirror

Not often do two super-important events happen on the same day but today they do.

It's a few long hours now until Super Bowl kickoff. You can pass those hours by viewing the hoopla surrounding the ridiculous rodent in Punxsutawny, old Phil, of course who will thrill the world with his prognostication about the weather sometime today.

Punxsutawny Phil did provide a bunch of writers some excitement one day about a dozen years ago. I know I wrote about it then but I just can't help but dredge it up again after all those years.

Burdock Teasel is an outdoor writer of note, who hangs out in the State College area and wrote for the Outdoor Times as well as other publications. The Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association met in DuBois that year and Phil and his handlers, tops hats and all. came to give us a special presentation.

Now, outdoor writers being what they are saw this appearance as a huge photo-op so one by one, they took turns posing beside the big rodent. Peyton Manning himself could hardly have attracted more attention. But Teasel was so forward as to try to pet Phil and found out abruptly that old Phil wasn't so sleepy after all.

The groundhog fastened on Burdock's hand and helped himself to a large chunk of it. Fortunately the beast had had its rabies shots so Teasel didn't have to worry about that but some concern was expressed as to whether Phil might catch something from Teasel.

We kept a close watch on both of them for the rest of the weekend for any sign of either of them frothing at the mouth but happily, both seemed none the worse from the encounter.

Explaining the situation to the medical staff and the hospital where Burdock went for treatment - just in case, you know - was another matter altogether. In response to the doctor's questions, Teasel told the doctor he had been bitten by a wild animal. They wanted to know what kind of animal and were bowled over when told it was a groundhog.

Since it was cold and snowing, it didn't seem reasonable to think any ground hog would be out biting people.

"We don't get many groundhog bites around here," the doctor commented drolly as he glanced surreptitiously at Teasel to see if this was joke or he was stoned or just what. After all, with a name like Teasel, one has to wonder.

"Well, don't worry," Teasel assured the doctor, " this groundhog had its rabies shots."

"A groundhog with shots?" the doctor screeched! But soon the light dawned and they knew which groundhog had bitten Teasel. Teasel became the talk of the hospital - a real celebrity - because he may be the only human to have been bitten by Phil.

Despite the image you'll see on TV today showing Phil as a groggy, tamed creature the truth is he is a wild creature and not used to hanging around conference rooms and being petted by people and flashes going off on his face. He probably was just a bit irritated by the whole thing.

So if every you get the chance to get near him, don't be fooled. Don't try to touch him or feed him cookies, he doesn't love you. According to his handlers, Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the annual Groundhog picnic which gives him seven more years of life. So Phil is about 125 years old now. Maybe it was old age that made him so crotchety that he'd bite a harmless creature like Burdock Teasel.

Landowners will tell you that the only way they like groundhogs is barbecued! They inflict a lot of damage with their penchant for digging huge holes. Animals and people alike step into those holes and break legs.

Just in case you wanted something deep to think about while whiling away the hours before kickoff here's a few interesting facts to memorize.

The average groundhog is about 20 inches long and normally weighs about 12 to 15 pounds. Punxutawny Phil weighs a bit more than the average, perhaps because of all the magic punch he ingests through the year.

Groundhogs are covered with coarse, grayish hairs (fur) tipped with brown or sometimes a dull red. They have short ears and are surprisingly quick. Their jaws and teeth are exceptionally strong. Just ask Burdock Teasel.

A groundhog's diet consists of lots of greens, fruits and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves. Just ask any farmer.

A groundhog whistles when alarmed. So they are nicknamed "whistlepigs." They also whistle in the spring when they begin courting.

Insects do not bother groundhogs and germs leave them pretty much alone. They are resistant to the plagues that periodically wipe out large numbers of other wild animals.

 
 
 

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