11 Punxsutawney Phil Facts for Groundhog Day

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Punxsutawney Phil is getting ready to make his Groundhog Day prediction about how much winter we've got left. [Update: He saw his shadow.] Here's a closer look at the rodent we trust for weather prognostication.

1. HE HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE 1887.

Punxsutawney Phil has been in charge of telling us how long winter will wear on (and, conversely, when spring will finally bloom) since 1887, all based on whether or not he sees his shadow on the morning of February 2nd (if he sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter, if he doesn’t, spring will come early). There are no other Phils. There’s just the one. No, really.

2. IT'S "GROUNDHOG PUNCH" THAT KEEPS HIM SO YOUNG. 

Phil stays so young by way of a magical “Groundhog Punch” that he’s fed every summer at the annual Groundhog Picnic (just a sip) that apparently extends his life for another seven years. So even if Phil misses out on six annual sips, he’s still good to go with his weather reporting and newsmaking for the time being. That’s some magical punch—the kind that foresees potential snags for nearly a full decade.

3. THE PUNXSUTAWNEY GROUNDHOG CLUB'S INNER CIRCLE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PHIL.

Phil obviously can’t get his elixir without a little help, which is where the so-called “Inner Circle” comes into play. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle doesn’t just hold fast to Phil’s meds and administer them to their beloved groundhog; they also take care of Phil for the entire year, plan each year’s big ceremony in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and sport some truly styling top hats and tuxedos at each ceremony.

4. THERE ARE 15 MEMBERS OF THE INNER CIRCLE.


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The Inner Circle currently has 15 members (16 if you count Phil himself), including President Bill Deeley, who has been in the circle since 1986. The members all have individual nicknames that vaguely tie into their careers (Tom Dunkel, the so-called “Shingle Shaker,” is a roofing contractor) or weather phenomena (there’s an “Iceman,” a “Big Chill,” and even a “Thunder Conductor”).

5. PHIL LIVES IN A TOWN LIBRARY.

When Phil is not busy predicting the weather at Gobbler’s Knob, a rural area about two miles outside of Punxsutawney proper, he lives in the town library.

6. HE HAS A WIFE, PHYLLIS.

Phil lives in that library with his wife, Phyllis. Yes, Punxsutawney Phil has his own little groundhog wife, and her name is Phyllis. It’s almost too adorable to be believed.

7. HE'S A JETSETTER.

Despite enjoying life in the library and doing other groundhog-appropriate things, Phil has done his fair share of traveling over the course of his career. In recent years, he has met big celebrities and public figures like Oprah and President Ronald Reagan.

8. HE WAS REPORTEDLY NAMED AFTER KING PHILLIP.

Punxsutawney Phil was apparently named after King Phillip. Before that naming took place, he was called “Br'er Groundhog,” which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

9. HE SPEAKS GROUNDHOGESE.


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Phil speaks a special language—it’s called Groundhogese—which is what he uses to communicate his shadow-finding to the Inner Circle President, who then announces it to the world.

10. HE WAS FIERCELY ANTI-PROHIBITION.

Phil apparently likes more than just his Groundhog Punch: The groundhog quite memorably announced during Prohibition that, if he were kept from drinking the hard stuff, there would be 60 weeks of winter. (But not even Punxsutawney Phil can plunge the world into over a year of winter, desire for booze aside.)

11. HIS PREDICTIONS AREN'T ALWAYS CORRECT—BUT IT'S NOT HIS FAULT.

Phil’s batting average for weather predictions isn’t exactly the greatest: A record of his findings shows that his shadow-based predictions have only been right about 64.4 percent of the time. (He got it wrong in 2017.) But don't blame Phil!

"Unfortunately, there have been years where the president has misinterpreted what Phil said," retired handler Ron Ploucha told PennLive. "Because Phil's never wrong. Phil's prediction is 100 percent correct, and we blame the variants on the president's interpretation of Phil's prediction."

This article originally appeared in 2014.

What’s That Thing That Hangs Off a Turkey’s Face?

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iStock.com/JZHunt

That thing is called a snood. And it's there to let the other turkeys know that its owner is kind of a big deal.

When a male turkey—known as a tom—wants to mate, he faces two hurdles. One is his potential mates, the female turkeys (a.k.a. hens). In the realm of turkey mating, the hens wield the power of choice and the toms have to get their attention and win the opportunity to reproduce. Come mating season, a tom will strut around, gobble, puff out his chest, fan his tail, and drag his wings to attract the hens, who then pick which of the toms they’ll mate with.

The second problem for a tom looking for love is the other toms in the area. They’re all competing for the same limited number of hens. Sometimes a good mating display isn’t enough to win a mate, and toms will attack and fight each other to secure a hen. 

This is where the snood comes in. That goofy-looking piece of dangling flesh helps a tom both with choosy hens and with competition from rival males. Having a long snood almost always means that a hen will want to mate with him and that another tom will back down from a fight.

DUDES AND THEIR SNOODS

When two toms are trying to establish dominance, they’ll size each other up. Then they'll either fight, or one will flee.

In the late 1990s, Richard Buchholz, an animal behaviorist who focuses on turkeys, wanted to figure out which, if any, characteristics of a tom turkey could predict how they fare in dominance fights. That is, did bigger turkeys tend to win more scuffles? Did older ones? He also wanted to see if the turkeys used any of these predictive cues when sizing each other up. He looked at various characteristics of dominant toms that fight and win, and compared them to those of subordinate toms that lose fights or run from them. Of all the characteristics he looked at, only “relaxed snood length” seemed to be a reliable predictor of how a tom would do in bird-vs-bird combat. The dominant males, the ones who won fights and got a choice mate, had longer snoods.

With that in mind, Buchholz looked at how toms reacted to other toms with snoods of varying sizes. The birds tended to avoid confrontation with other males with longer snoods, and wouldn’t even feed near them. A big snood, this suggests, says to the other turkeys that this is a tom you don’t want to tangle with. Buchholz noted that snood length correlates with age, body mass, and testosterone, so, to competitors, the snood could be a good indicator of a tom’s aggressiveness, age/experience, size, and overall condition and fighting ability.

IN THE SNOOD FOR LOVE

Once the males have established who’s going to have a chance to mate, the final choice goes to the hen. While the mating display is the main draw for getting a hen to check him out, a tom’s snood helps him out again here.

Like it did for the other males, a tom’s snood signals a lot of information to a female assessing potential mates—it indicates how old and how big he is, and even says something about his health. In another study, Buchholz found that longer-snooded toms carried fewer parasites. If a hen wanted to choose a mate with good genes that might help her offspring grow large, live long, and avoid parasites, a tom’s snood is a good advertisement for his genes. In that study, hens showed a clear preference for toms with longer snoods. In another experiment years later, Buchholz found that healthy hens again showed a strong preference for long snoods and that hens with their own parasite problems were less picky about snood length and checked out more potential mates—perhaps, Buchholz thinks, because the hens recognized their own susceptibility to infection and were willing to invest more time searching for a tom with genes for parasite resistance that would complement their own—but still showed some preference for longer ones.

While a snood might look goofy to us, for a turkey, it’s integral to the mating game, signaling to other toms that they should get out of his way and letting hens know that he’s got what they’re looking for.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2013.

What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?

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iStock

For carbohydrate lovers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal quite like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say stuffing, though. They say dressing. In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. Dressing seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while stuffing is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it filling, which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If stuffing stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word stuffing impolite, and therefore never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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