Believe it or not, all of the commotion in this photo -- the huge crowd, the reporter, the man in the top hat -- is caused by what looks like an oversized squirrel in top hat man's arms. It's actually a groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil, and each year on Feb. 2, for more than a century, a groundhog like this one has been brought out before a crowd gathered in Punxsutawney, Pa. As the story goes, if Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter weather. If he doesn't, then it means an early spring is on the way.
Well, get ready to start cleaning early and throwing open the windows, because this year the famous groundhog saw no shadow and predicted an early spring. (He did not, however, predict the winner of the upcoming Panthers-Broncos Super Bowl match-up. So the rodent has his predictive limitations.)
Before the big shadow-or-no-shadow reveal, there's a party atmosphere, with singing, and, eventually, more men in top hats.
Said party starts long before sunrise in Punxsutawney, as thousands gather to find out whether winter will linger long or make a hasty retreat.
Punxsutawney Phil isn't above letting his likeness be used for promotional merchandising purposes. Hopefully he gets a cut of the proceeds.
As you might imagine, the men in tuxedos and top hats have a special place in the groundhog day apparatus. They belong to the inner circle, the group in charge of taking care of Phil throughout the year and planning the yearly festivities.
The groundhog day party takes place in Gobbler's Knob, a wooded area a couple of miles outside of Punxsutawney. Here a pair of revelers seeking a souvenir get their picture taken in front of the entrance.
Actor Bill Murray, no stranger to unusual roles, played the lead in a film that brought even greater fame to groundhog day. The movie "Groundhog Day" starred Murray as a newscaster stuck in a hellish temporal loop, where each day plays itself out exactly as did the previous one. Thanks to the movie, the term "groundhog day" has even entered the lexicon: If you're stuck in a day of repetitive tasks, just tell people you're having a groundhog day -- they'll know what you mean.
Sonny and Cher's 1965 single "I Got You Babe" reached more ears than it had in many years when it was featured prominently in "Groundhog Day." Each morning of his awful, repeating day, Bill Murray's character wakes up to the song playing on his alarm clock. "I Got You Babe" hit #1 in the U.S. and U.K. in the summer of 1965, the same year this groovy photo was taken.
Groundhogs are also known as woodchucks or marmots. They're the largest members of the squirrel family and can climb trees, as well as swim. They'll typically weigh about 13 pounds (6 kilograms) and hibernate in underground burrows after the first frost. They'll eat grasses, plants, fruits and even tree bark.
Here's a groundhog preparing to retreat into its burrow.
Finally, of course, we could be forgiven for wondering about the accuracy of the "predictions" made by everyone's favorite furry meteorologist.
Is Phil a reliable indicator of continuing winter drudgery vs. the flowering of an early spring? There's a reasonable data sample from which to draw, as Phil and his various incarnations have been at this game for more than 100 years, starting in 1887.
His predictions are on the money about 39 percent of the time, according to LiveScience. Does that mean the little fella doesn't know what he's doing? We could ask him, but it's doubtful we'd understand his answer. And, anyway, where's the fun in holding him accountable?