This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions & Answers

Published: February 5, 2004

Dave Borden, project support specialist for the Center for Advanced Photonic and Electronic Material (CAPEM), is the handler/friend of Ridge Lea Larry.

Just who is Ridge Lea Larry?
Ridge Lea Larry is a groundhog and the UB Department of Geology's weather predictor, similar to Dunkirk Dave and Punxsutawney Phil. Larry differs from Dave and Phil in that since he is stuffed, his spirit relays his weather predictions to us.

Why is Larry called "Ridge Lea?"
The Department of Geology was housed on the Ridge Lea Campus off North Bailey Avenue from 1975-94. Doris Millholland, a retired assistant to the department chair, recalls that geology student Eric Halter initially called Larry "Ridge Lea," and the name received the most votes in a naming contest.

Where did the idea of the geology department having a Groundhog Day event come from? How long has it been going on?
In 1983, geology department staff talked about having a cookout on Groundhog Day—Feb. 2—so I brought my grill to work, along with a stuffed groundhog that I had acquired from a taxidermy shop near my home. Winter often makes you feel cooped up—constantly stuck inside during bad weather—so having a barbecue during the middle of winter was a perfect solution for UB geologists. Thus begun our traditional Groundhog Day cookout and weather predictions.

What is the origin of the legend of the groundhog and his shadow?
The Delaware Indians, who settled the area around Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, considered groundhogs honorable ancestors. According to the original creation beliefs of the Indians, their forebears began life as animals in "Mother Earth" and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men. When German settlers arrived in the area, they brought a tradition known as Candlemas Day, which came at the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of winter. Superstition held that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter. Germans watched a badger for the shadow. In Pennsylvania, the groundhog, upon waking from mid-winter hibernation, was selected as the replacement.

Is there much competition among all the groundhog prognosticators—Punxsutawney Phil, Dunkirk Dave and Larry?
Yes, there is a little competition. But for the most part, each groundhog keeps within his own territory.

What's the difference between a groundhog and a woodchuck?
Nothing—they're the same animal.

Did Larry see his shadow on Monday?
Yes he did, so we can expect six more weeks of winter!