House Speaker Paul Ryan says his car was eaten by woodchucks, NPR reports. The furry rodents spent the winter munching on the congressman’s Chevy Suburban, which had been parked at his mom’s house in Wisconsin, Ryan said at a talk in DC. The car did not weather the woodchuck invasion well. “It’s just dead,” he told the audience, according to NPR.
So The Verge is asking the tough questions: did woodchucks specifically target Paul Ryan? Or do woodchucks typically chuck cars?
Paul Ryan’s in the clear: big ground squirrels known as marmots — and yes, a woodchuck is a species of marmot — do chuck cars. And trucks. And bicycles, according to Daniel Blumstein, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles who studies marmots.
And it’s not just Paul Ryan’s car. Most of the time, marmots are vegetarians that eat grasses and fruits. But for some, car parts are a delicacy. “Apparently they’re attracted to radiator fluid,” Blumstein says — and not just in Wisconsin. The species of marmot that Blumstein studies around the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in Colorado can make car maintenance hairy. “We’ve got marmots climbing in cars, and being driven around, and sometimes getting killed, and eating cars, and destroying wiring,” Blumstein says. “But usually they’re going for the radiator fluid, somehow. And it can’t be good for them.”
So how do you keep them away? “What we do is if cars are being savaged by marmots, people put chicken wire under them,” Blumstein says. The website for Mineral King, California — part of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks — has other advice. (“You are entering marmot country,” the website warns.) Park officials actually recommend against the chicken-wire strategy these days, “as marmots have learned to get around the wire.” Now, the park advises washing your car — including the undercarriage and engine compartment — before completely wrapping it in a tarp to keep the marmots out.
Blumstein has also resorted to having a designated car watcher to prevent the creatures from getting too close. “So instead they ate our bicycles — they ate the seat and the handlebar grips,” Blumstein says. “We had car watch; maybe Paul Ryan could get the Secret Service guarding his car,” he says.
There’s another marmot-repelling strategy that Ryan may be more reluctant to try: urine. “Some studies have shown that mountain lion urine or lion urine on the apples keeps them away,” Blumstein says.
Christine Maher, a professor of biology and associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Southern Maine, is more of a woodchuck skeptic, however. She hasn’t heard of the marmot species on her end of the country trying to get into cars — especially in the winter. Woodchucks are burrowers, Maher explains — and to keep warm during the cold winter months, woodchucks burrow beneath the frost line. So woodchucks hibernating in a car “would just be burning through more fat trying to keep their bodies from freezing,” she says.
She wants to see the evidence — because mice or chipmunks could also have gnawed through the wiring. “It would have been nice to see how they decided it was woodchucks that had done it,” she says.
Whether it’s ultimately a woodchuck, mouse, or chipmunk to blame, one thing’s for certain: Ryan is going to need a new vehicle.