(Kansas City, Missouri) - Nobody knows more about the four-legged star of Groundhog Day than Kenneth Armitage.
An emeritus professor of behavioral ecology at the University of Kansas, Armitage has studied groundhogs and other marmots for some 50 years. So great is his reputation that Sony Pictures Entertainment turned to him when it released a 15th-anniversary edition of the movie Groundhog Day in 2008, enlisting the master of the marmot to talk on camera about the mammal's "real life" for a DVD extra.
Armitage visits the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St., on Sunday, February 1, 2015 — the eve of nation's observance of Groundhog Day — to discuss the cultural influences of this unique celebration and deliver insight into the marmot itself.
The 2 p.m. presentation, Marmots on My Mind, coincides with the publication of a new academic volume based upon Armitage's decades of research, Marmot Biology: Sociality, Individual Fitness, and Population Dynamics.
Armitage has focused much of his nearly half-century of marmot study on the yellow-bellied variety, also known as the rock chuck. Groundhogs also are part of the family. Among other things, Armitage's research has found that they're thriving amid climate change, growing larger, healthier, and more plentiful.
That scholarly bent doesn't rule out having fun with Groundhog Day.
The observance endures, he says, because "it's become a fun thing to do. I guess in recent years, maybe in the late '90s, a lot of comic strips began to parody or make some play on the Groundhog Day phenomenon. ... And there's also Groundhog Day the movie."
As for the mammal's reliability as a weather forecaster, "Let me put it this way," Armitage says. "The groundhog has a 50-50 chance of making a correct prediction, which means if you flip a coin, you'll have the same chance predicting whether it will be a shorter or longer winter as the groundhog would. There are a number of Groundhog Day predictions around the country, and in any one year some will be correct. Some will predict a long winter, and some will predict a short winter. Some will be right, some will be wrong."
Admission to his presentation is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th and Baltimore.