Greg Florant, groundhog guy, reporting for duty

Greg Florant doesn’t mind being the groundhog guy – in fact, he rather likes it. “My big day is coming up,” he jokes – that is, Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, when Punxsutawney Phil will be forcibly pulled from his hidey-hole so he can predict whether we’ll have an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

Gregory Florant, Professor of Biology, with "Baby" the marmot. January 25, 2012
Professor Greg Florant with Baby the yellow-bellied marmot. Jan. 25, 2012

That’s right – CSU has its very own groundhog expert. So ask away. Can Phil really predict the weather? “Completely false,” says Florant, professor of biology in the College of Natural Sciences. “But it’s a good story.”

To be more scientifically exact, Florant studies marmots – close relatives of the groundhog, which is also called a woodchuck or whistlepig. All of the above belong to the genus Marmota.

In his research, Florant is focused on answering questions about how these amazing creatures change their food intake and metabolism during their seven-month hibernation cycle – how their body masses change, and how their lipid storage processes are affected by their extremely long nap.

By the way – did you know that even if you forced a marmot to stay awake through winter, it would still stop eating? Something happens in these critters’ bodies that suppresses their appetite; they naturally don’t eat for nearly seven months! (Diet pill precursor, anyone?)

Florant has recently teamed with Seth Donahue, associate professor in mechanical engineering, who studies the biomechanics of bone mass. During marmot hibernation, in which their body temperature drops to match ambient temperature, these animals do not lose bone mass. The researchers want to know why.

“If you were put in the hospital for six months, your bone mass would decrease; why doesn’t theirs?” Florant says.

Florant is a marmot enthusiast, which is why he likes Groundhog Day. “It brings publicity to woodchucks, marmots, and hibernation,” he says.

Near his office, a yellow-bellied marmot named Baby is, right now, fast asleep in a comfy, refrigerated burrow. Unlike Punxsutawney Phil, Baby gets to sleep through winter.