For 137 Years, Groundhog Day’s Punxsutawney Phil Has Been Kept in Captivity
Where does Punxsutawney Phil live year-round? While many may assume he is treated like an absolute king, unfortunately, the truth is a bit disappointing.
On Groundhog Day every year, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil is presented before the public, and a group of fully grown men with access to meteorology reports look for his shadow to determine the next six weeks of weather.
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, plus the details on his 2023 weather prediction.
Did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow in 2023? Here’s what he predicted.
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.
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 were surprised when one of the members read out the 2023 prognostication: that Phil saw his shadow, and there will indeed be six more weeks of winter (at least according to them).
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.
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.
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.
New Jersey’s Milltown Mel passed away just before Groundhog Day last year.
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 hibernating...so 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, as the replacement Mel who was supposed to debut this year "is currently not allowed to be here according to a state of New Jersey statute."
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 2023.