Since the late 1800s, some Pennsylvania men in suits and top hats have looked to a rodent to predict the bitterness of the winter ahead after February. The groundhog is called Punxsutawney Phil, so-named after the town in Pennsylvania where this bizarre and cruel annual tradition occurs.
Each year, the severity of winter weather over the next several weeks is contingent upon a frightened groundhog being presented to large crowds in sub-freezing temperatures after seeing (or not seeing) their shadow.
Enter PETA, an organization that has long been critical of the Punxsutawney, Pa. tradition, and their latest plea to let the poor animal be. Here's what we know about PETA's latest efforts to save Punxsutawney Phil and those who come after him.
PETA wants to replace Punxsutawney Phil with a coin for Groundhog Day.
"Groundhogs can't make heads or tails of the weather forecast and shouldn't be jostled around by large members of a different species and thrust in front of noisy crowds for a photo op," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a release.
Previous Groundhog Day traditions included digging up a poor groundhog from their home, being chased by townspeople, and having a "magical elixir" of "vodka, milk, and orange juice" shoved down their throats, with their kin hunted and eaten in celebration, per History.
Though the "elixir of life" has not been used for more than a century, per TIME, the unbridled cruelty of each successive groundhog's handling remains.
According to PETA, Phil is not treated like royalty throughout the remainder of the year but rather confined to a small enclosure in a library year-round.
In PETA's letter to Groundhog Club President Tom Dunkel, they acknowledge the storied history of the tradition, while urging a humane future for Phil.
"Give Phil the retirement party he deserves, complete with a ticket to a reputable sanctuary, and we’ll send you a two-sided giant coin to forecast the weather in his place. This makes cents for several reasons," the letter reads.
Animal advocates have spoken out against exploiting animals for entertainment.
Organizations such as Farm Sanctuary have protested against the exploitation of these fuzzy creatures for human entertainment, suggesting that groundhog enthusiasts instead take action against government programs and "traditions" that kill wildlife.
Past PETA proposals for Western Pennsylvania's Groundhog Day tradition alternatives include a persimmon tree, an animatronic Phil who could predict the weather more accurately utilizing artificial intelligence, and replacing Phil with a human activist who would live in Phil's enclosure instead.
Phil is far from the only groundhog used for human entertainment and unreliable weather forecasting. In fact, per the Countdown to Groundhog Day website, many other states in the U.S. and areas around the world look to live groundhogs, stuffed animal versions, and taxidermied groundhogs for their winter predictions.
And, according to an illuminating USA Today graphic, Phil's 40% accuracy in predicting the weather is, in fact, no more reliable than a flip of the coin.