Getting ready for her close up: How Discovery Place Nature’s beloved Queen Charlotte prepares for Groundhog Day

Discovery Place Nature

Groundhog Day can really sneak up on you – unless you are the star of the Feb. 2 holiday. In that case, you likely have been preparing for your moment in the spotlight for months. Just ask Queen Charlotte, the beloved groundhog who lives at Discovery Place Nature and is looked upon each year to determine the city of Charlotte’s weather pattern for the next six weeks.

Since Queen Charlotte, who weighs around 11 pounds, is crepuscular – meaning she is mostly awake at dawn and dusk – she isn’t always easy to spot at the Museum. Her Royal Highness spends most of her day burrowed inside the nest in her enclosure. (She also really enjoys napping in the hollow logs she has in there so be sure to peek in those as well on your next visit!)

In the wild, groundhogs typically hibernate in winter, but because she is not exposed to the elements, Queen Charlotte does not go into full hibernation mode. Still, the Queen spends most of the winter months – from November to early March – eating less and sleeping a lot more.

Naturalists at the Museum work with Queen Charlotte all year round but give her extra attention during the months leading up to her big holiday. Since she was not born in captivity*, Queen Charlotte isn’t always fond of being held or petted. Staff take her out regularly to gradually build up her tolerance to human interaction. And, as with all royalty, she requires frequent brushing and a manicure should her nails get too long.

In the rodent world, groundhogs are considered very intelligent, which is why we trust them with this important weather prediction. Staff often will hide food or wrap it in a paper bag for Queen Charlotte so she can sharpen her mind while she eats. Queen Charlotte, like her groundhog peers, is a pure vegetarian, enjoying greens, roots, bark, nuts, berries and other fruits. The Queen’s personal favorites include walnuts, sweet potatoes, apples and carrots.

When Groundhog Day comes around, Museum staff place these treats in two different bowls for Queen Charlotte to choose from. Whichever bowl she opts to eat out of determines the weather fate of the Queen City – either an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

This year, Discovery Place Nature will host a special Groundhog Day celebration on Saturday, Feb. 2. Prior to the Museum opening, Queen Charlotte will make her weather prediction. Then, beginning at 9 a.m., the Museum will host special activities focused on critters coping with the cold. The event will, among other things, teach visitors more about groundhogs.

Want more Queen Charlotte updates? Follow her on Twitter at @CLTGroundhog.

* Queen Charlotte arrived at Discovery Place Nature on December 2, 2014, at the age of one and weighing just over three-and-half pounds. She was found the previous year in a parking lot with a patch of fur missing from her back. Unaware of what had happened to the young animal, a wildlife rehabilitator tried to get her back in shape to be returned to the wild but soon deemed her unfit for such a future. Queen Charlotte then landed at Discovery Place Nature, where she has spent the last several years helping visitors learn about her species.

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