For 138 Years, Punxsutawney Phil Has Been Kept in Captivity

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Feb. 2 2024, Updated 9:23 a.m. ET

A man in a top hat holds up Punxsutawney Phil before a crowd on Groundhog Day at the Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Penn. on Feb. 2, 2023.
Source: Getty Images

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day at the Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Penn. on Feb. 2, 2023.

On Groundhog Day every year, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil is presented before the public, and a group of grown men with access to meteorology reports look for his shadow to determine the next six weeks of weather.

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There’s sure a lot of pressure on the innocent groundhog during those few minutes every year — but where does Punxsutawney Phil live year-round? While many may assume he is treated like an absolute king, animal lovers may find the truth a bit disappointing. Here’s what we know about the famous groundhog’s lifestyle.

A man in a black top hat holds a groundhog up in front of the sky
Source: Getty Images
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Where does Punxsutawney Phil live? He is kept in captivity at a zoo.

According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website, Phil lives in a manmade burrow at a roadside zoo located in Punxsutawney, Penn.

His burrow has a viewing window, meaning the public can stop by and observe him every day of the year. He lives there with his wife, Phyliss.

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, typically go into hibernation in late fall, when they notice weather getting colder and daylight hours getting shorter. They then remain in hibernation for about three months, according to National Geographic. Male groundhogs typically wake up in February, earlier than females, so that they can prepare for mating season.

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Two people look into Punxsutawney Phil's enclosure at Groundhog Zoo, with a wooden groundhog statue in the foreground
Source: Getty Images

However, Punxsutawney Phil is denied this basic functioning of his species (as are most hibernators in captivity). In Phil’s burrow at the roadside zoo, both the climate and lights are kept the same every day of the year, to prevent his body from receiving nature's signals to go into hibernation.

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This allows Phil to remain awake during daylight hours every day, meaning the club and zoo can profit off of him every day, rather than for only nine months out of the year. It also ensures that Phil is awake on Groundhog Day, which occurs shortly before wild groundhogs come out of hibernation.

Many animal advocates have campaigned for the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club to retire Phil, and let him live out his days at an animal sanctuary.

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Did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow in 2024?

A closeup of Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog
Source: Getty Images

The day before Groundhog Day 2024, The Weather Channel reported that the weather forecast in Pennsylvania for Feb. 2, 2024 clouds, potentially suggesting that Phil won't see his shadow — and that prediction was right.

Phil emerged from his burrow around 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, and didn't see his shadow. This indicates that an early spring is coming (if you believe in the non-science of Groundhog Day).

On the years when Phil does see his shadow, it indicates that there will be six more weeks of winter (at least according to the tradition).

In the early hours of the morning every Groundhog Day, which is always Feb. 2, the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club gather in a village called Gobbler's Knob, located in the small town of Punxsutawney, Penn. The event always draws a sizable crowd full of people itching to see Punxsutawney Phil and his potential shadow, despite starting in the very early morning hours.

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Once it's time, one of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club members pulls Phil out from a tree stump on the stage, and presents him before the crowd, Simba-style. He is then placed on a tiny red carpet on top of the stump.

Interestingly, it’s usually impossible to see the small patch of carpet, at least from the Groundhog Day livestreams, so bystanders and viewers are typically surprised when one of the members reads out that year's prognostication.

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New Jersey’s Milltown Mel passed away just before Groundhog Day in 2022.

In late January 2022, just three days before that year's Groundhog Day, New Jersey’s groundhog Milltown Mel passed away, NBC News reported. Milltown had a similar job to Phil, and appeared in a ceremony for the public every Feb. 2. The Milltown event was subsequently canceled since the town could not find a replacement groundhog, as they are all in hibernation — which highlights how unnatural this tradition is.

A statement on his official Facebook page read: “Mel left us at a tough time of year, when most of his fellow groundhogs are no babies will be available to replace him until this Spring. We tried everywhere to get a stand-in, but to no avail!”

In 2023, Milltown, N.J. also canceled its local Groundhog Day event, and the town did the same for 2024, as a replacement Mel has not been located yet.

In contrast, Punxsutawney Phil will never die. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the same Punxsutawney Phil has been making predictions since 1886, thanks to an "elixir of life" that he drinks every summer at the Groundhog Picnic. The lifespan of a groundhog is anywhere from three years to 15 years, but it seems that the club does not publicly share when one Phil dies and is replaced with another.

This article, originally published on Feb. 2, 2022, has been updated to include information on Groundhog Day 2024.

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