Could the Potawatomi Zoo animals give an accurate Groundhog Day forecast?

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Let's be honest: Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t have the best forecast track record.

Listening to a rodent give the weather isn’t the best meteorological advice - but it makes for a fun holiday. Are there any animals that accurately communicate signs about upcoming weather? Could there be a better replacement to the groundhog? I visited Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend to ask their staff members.

"So Smiley, who is our American alligator, is maybe not a great predictor of how much longer spring is," says Kristina Barroso Burrell. "But he is a great predictor of when spring is coming, or when winter is over."

Alligators go through brumation in the winter, which is similar to hibernation. Their bodies slow down. Smiley doesn’t move much; he’s happy to just chill in his water. He won’t eat until temperatures are warm again.

"In the spring time, when he is feeling more alert, he stands by his door again, and lets us know that he wants to go back outside for the summer," explained Barroso Burrell. "So he’s a pretty good predictor of when spring is coming."

We’ll give Smiley a score of six out of ten if he was a replacement groundhog! Let’s move on to another animal, who looks similar to a groundhog: prairie dogs.

Zoo staff can tell the weather will be nice when prairie dogs are out. They stay in their burrows on cloudy or snowy days. On the sunny days when prairie dogs are above ground, there are also more shadows.

"They do alert to shadows, much like a groundhog does," Barroso Burrell said. "Shadows often mean predators, so there’s always one prairie dog who’s on alert to make sure that they’re safe."

We’ll give prairie dogs a score of nine out of ten, since they react to shadows similar to the groundhog. Plus, people can actually tell what kind of day is in the forecast based on their behavior. Let’s move on to the adorable red pandas.

"We think they may not be a great prognosticator on February second, but they are pretty good alerts of when spring is coming," she mentioned, while the red pandas played in the snow.

"They are definitely a winter animal. They really love it when it gets cold. So the colder it gets, the more playful they are, the more active they are."

As the weather warms, the red pandas spend more time indoors. We’ll give them a score of four out of ten. They might be too busy playing in the snow to let us know if they see a shadow or not.

We moved indoors to meet Briar Rose and Tennyson, the lesser hedgehog tenrecs. Tenrecs are from warm Madagascar. When it gets cooler, their bodies go into a state called torpor, where they eat less and sleep more. Zoo staff can tell spring is coming when they become more active again.

"I’d say that they would give Punxsutawney Phil a run for his money," said Amanda Brunson-Cruz. "They’re pretty good. We can definitely have them help us predict spring by how active they are."

 A score of eight out of ten for the tenrecs, as they could really tell us if we are getting closer to warmer weather. Now for one final animal.

"This is Cachicamo," introduced Melissa Gunter. "He is a three-banded armadillo."

This species is from South America, so he loves warm weather. A typical armadillo would curl into a ball on a cool day to try to save warmth. How would Cachi do on groundhog day? Well, he’s in his own little world.

"Cachi would probably not be very good at being a predictor of the end of winter, because he is way too focused on finding bugs to eat in the ground, and… just being Cachi," Gunter laughed, as Cachi scuttled across the ground, completely oblivious to the camera.

We’ll give him a three out of ten, and let him scurry on.

Would any of these animals make a better replacement for Groundhog Phil? While they certainly can show us signs of changing seasons, it might be better to just enjoy the craziness of the holiday and get a better forecast from our First Warning Neighborhood Weather Team.

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