Friday Weird Science: how much wood could a woodchuck chuck...

Oct 05 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

...if a woodchuck could chuck wood? We've all heard the answer to that age-old question: he'd chuck the wood that a woodchuck COULD chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

But then you have to ask yourself: how much IS that?

Someone actually found out. Or rather, they MAY have found out. The paper is in the Annals of Improbable Research, and was improbably peer reviewed. It also has highly improbable animal care protocols. So from what I can tell the actual possibility of this study having been done is...improbable.

But they did get a number!

Paskevich and Shea. "The ability of woodchucks to chuck cellulose fibers" Annals of Improbable Research, 1995.

Groundhogs, aka woodchucks, aka whistle-pigs aren't hogs (obviously). Instead they are rodents (of the Sciurid family, which I personally feel to be an awesome name). They live all over the US, and it's pretty common to see them along the side of the road (usually as roadkill, but sometimes you get lucky and see a live one).

They don't ACTUALLY eat or throw wood. Instead, they eat grasses and insects and pretty much everything else at ground level they can get their hands on. But they can, apparently, CHEW wood, and that's where the idea for this study came in.

The authors decided to use the word "chuck" to mean "chew" (I suppose because upchucking is the opposite?), and wanted to see how much wood a woodchuck could chuck. They obtained 12 woodchucks (by "various means" that are not described, I picture some middle aged guy in a suit trying to stalk one), and food deprived them to ensure they would eat the wood. Then, they fed each woodchuck a 2x4 (yes) and watched how fast they ate it.

All the woodchucks ate the wood, none actively attempted to toss it, and none upchucked. They could, apparently digest the wood pretty well, and consumed it at a rate of 361.9237001 cubic centimeteres per animals per day (no error bars, and the food deprivation was nuts, 12 days, leading me to think they didn't REALLY...). They note that, while none of the woodchucks attempted to throw the wood, they probably would have, had they been capable.

So the next time someone asks you, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? You answer is clear! He'd chuck 361.9237001 cubic centrimeters of wood per day, which is the wood that a woodchuck COULD chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

*As the authors have been so gracious as to address the question of woodchucks and wood, I would like to propose to them their next series of studies: how much ground could a groundhog hog if a groundhog could hog ground? I will look forward to seeing the data.

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