While we all look forward to Groundhog Day on February 2nd and the forecast for an early spring from the two greatest weatherhogs on the planet - Wiarton Willie in Wiarton, Ontario and Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the truth behind this 200 year-old tradition is oftentimes forgotten.
Long before the advent of Groundhog Day on February 2nd, the Romans observed a similar event thousands of years ago on the exact same day. Rather than use the North American groundhog, the Romans used the hedgehog.
“If during hibernation, he (the hedgehog) looks out of his den on 2nd February and sees his shadow it means there is a clear moon and six more weeks of winter so he returns to his burrow.
The only difference between this ancient event and the present day version (aside from the hedgehog, of course) is the fact that the Romans would look to see if the hedgehog saw its shadow under a clear moon at night.
Here in North America, where we have no indigenous species of hedgehog, we replaced the hedgehog with the native groundhog. To this day Punxsutawney Phil and Wiarton Willie battle it out to see who is the better weather forecaster, but little do they or their handlers know that the original prognosticator of spring was a hedgehog.