All eyes were on Connecticut's official state groundhog on Thursday, Feb. 2, as Chuckles VIII predicted an early spring.
A celebration of Chuckles' annual prognostication is held in the early morning each Groundhog Day at the state groundhog's official residence, the Lutz Children's Museum in Manchester.
After a few speeches and a rousing rendition of the Groundhog Song, led by town troubadour Dan Thompson, Chuckles arose, checked for her shadow, made a few quick meteorological calculations and – as only the Mayor of Manchester has the ability to translate groundhog into English – whispered her prediction into Mayor Jay Moran's ear.
All kidding aside, the annual event creates a built-in opportunity for the Lutz Children's Museum to tout its many exhibits, classes, and outreach programs to schools and other groups. The museum also operates the Oak Grove Nature Center, in conjunction with the Town of Manchester.
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are common rodents and one of several different species of marmots. They can be a nuisance to farmers, as they are mainly herbivorous and spend the warmer months gorging on food, in order to build up layers of fat that will hold them over during their winter hibernation.
An equal opportunity employer, Lutz Museum Executive Director Bob Eckert said he believed Chuckles VIII is the second female groundhog to fill the role of state groundhog. Her immediate predecessor, Chuckles VII was also a female, but the first six were males.
Chuckles is also disabled. She first came to the museum in 2012, after she was found abandoned in a Vernon parking lot when only a few weeks old. Treated at the Bolton Veterinary Hospital for a respiratory problem that would make her unable to survive if released into the wild, she came to live permanently at the museum and assumed the job she holds today.
Science Educator Michelle Deering said the celebration of Groundhog Day is based on traditions that mark the passage of darkness into light, such as the pagan celebration of Imbolc, held halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
As legend has it, if when the groundhog comes out of its burrow on Feb. 2 it sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If not, one can expect an early spring.
Last year on Groundhog Day, Chuckles suffered a bit of a scandal when she predicted an early spring, only to have some foul winter weather cast its own shadow on her prediction. Nutmeggers take their weather predictions seriously, and the Suffield Police Department charged Chuckles with making a false statement.
"Our lawyers came quickly to her defense and she received a full pardon," said Visitor Services Manager Kate Morrissey.
The "scandal" also resulted in a small fundraiser for the Lutz, when some of her many supporters sent in money to help pay for her defense.
"[The lawyers] had to explain that just because Chuckles predicts an early spring, it doesn't mean that spring is going to come that very day," she said.
In other news, according to Moran, Chuckles VIII also predicted the Patriots would win the Super Bowl by eight points.