It is important to know that skunks do not hibernate; however, they can become dormant or semi-active during cold weather by staying in their den for days or even weeks at a time and only moving around when a lot of snow is above ground. During this time, skunks will rely on stored body fat. Several females often stay together, but males usually remain solitary.
Do Skunks Hibernate? This question has been asked since the dawn of time. It seems like every animal needs to hibernate during the winter months. But why does the skunk get away with not hibernating?
Skunks are unique among mammals because they don’t need to hibernate. They just go underground where they stay warm and cozy with other skunks and kits until springtime.
But how do they survive without food and water? And what do they do during winter? In this article, we will answer these questions and many others.
Do Skunks Hibernate?
Skunks do not hibernate in the winter, but they do tend to sleep more during colder times of the year. However, they still wake up and move around every now and then and you’ll notice them moving around more if there is a lot of snow on the ground.
Even though they don’t hibernate, Skunks will still need to conserve energy during the cold weather.
However, they’re not sleeping; they’re just resting at a lower body temperature. So when temperatures drop below freezing, skunks go into a state called torpor.
Torpor is actually a natural state that became an important process for energy conservation that occurs in animals to decrease their need for food when it becomes unavailable.
However, this physiological state of dormancy called torpor is not seasonally dependent and can take place at any time of the year.
It just so happens that skunks can display a decrease in energy during cold weather.
But during this phase of lowered activity, most animals lose their appetite and also reduce their metabolism rate and breathing. They may even stop urinating and defecating for several days.
In some cases, however, these changes are not permanent and the animal’s metabolism returns to normal after the winter season passes.
When temperatures drop below freezing, the skunk’s metabolism slows down, allowing its body temperature to drop to a safe level.
This very low level of metabolism and body temperature can lead to daily torpor but even though it can be similar to hibernation, the only difference in skunks is that they aren’t asleep.
This allows the skunk to save energy while maintaining a constant body temperature.
Related – Are Skunks Crepuscular, Nocturnal or Diurnal?
Where Do Skunks Hibernate?
It’s important to note that skunks do not hibernate, but during the colder months, they remain in their dens and burrows for several weeks and during this time, they use their body’s fat stores to keep themselves warm.
However, skunks don’t always sleep in dens or burrows during the cold months when trees are collapsing due to the harsh winter weather.
Instead, they will also seek shelter in other places where they feel safe. For example, they might hide in hollow logs, woodpiles, or under decks. They’ll often use these hiding spots to rest up before returning home in the springtime.
This means that if you live near a wooded area, you might also see skunks under your shed or garage.
These animals are attracted to areas where food is abundant, and since sheds and garages often contain bird feeders, they’ll hang out underneath.
How Long Do Skunks Hibernate?
It remains known that skunks don’t hibernate but the average length of time that they spend in their dens during the colder months varies by species and the mating season.
However, early March is usually the mating season for skunks, and most kits are then born in May.
What Temperature Do Skunks Hibernate in?
While skunks don’t hibernate, they’ll remain dormant underground during winter with a body temperature that remains near a normal level which is an average of 36.1˚C (97°F), according to Skunk Haven.
To stay warm, skunks may share dens with more than a dozen others of their kind.
Females usually lose 10 to 30% of their body weight by Spring while males lose only 10% of their body weight, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
When Do Skunks Come Out of Hibernation?
During the winter months and in regions with colder weather, skunks tend to stay underground longer than during the summer months. As a result, they become less likely to emerge from their burrow until springtime arrives when mating season begins.
Once the temperature rises above freezing, they begin emerging from their burrows to look for food because they are less likely to remain underground in their burrows after the winter season has passed.
I mean, they gotta eat right!
You might think that skunks would be able to survive through the coldest part of the year without needing to eat, but that isn’t true.
Their bodies require energy to function properly, and they need to consume calories every day, but this is where the stored fat came to their rescue.
How Do Skunks Prepare for Winter?
Skunks prepare for winter by eating a lot of insects, especially grasshoppers and crickets. They also eat small mammals, such as mice and rats, and even frogs.
During the fall months, they can be found in large groups near streams or ponds where there is plenty of insect food.
Skunks will also pass by sewers and drains because they know that rodents and snakes can emerge.
In terms of winter preparation for their den, skunks will spend some time repairing or rebuilding their burrows during fall or by the end of that season.
When rebuilding, skunks will dig long tunnels to create more space.
When digging their tunnels, skunks use their front claws to break through the dirt.
After breaking through the soil, they’ll push the dirt aside with their hind paws before continuing to dig deeper into the ground.
This newly created space allows them easy access to and from the area while also allowing them to stay warm during the cold nights of winter.
After digging their dens, skunks cover themselves with leaves and other debris to insulate themselves from the bitter cold. Then they curl into a ball and wait for warmer days to return.
Skunks will also gather with their families to keep each other warm through a shivering process.
Shivering is a common method among mammals of producing body heat which allows them to stay warm.
Do Skunks Spray in the Winter?
Early in the winter season when temperatures begin to drop below freezing, skunks will start spraying to mark their territory which also acts as a deterrent to ward off animals who would otherwise attack them.
This behavior is called “defensive spraying,” and it’s common among skunks living in colder climates.
What Do Skunks Eat in the Winter?
Like squirrels, skunks would have gathered nuts, fruits, and bird seeds to consume during the winter months.
Additionally, when it gets really cold out, skunks can survive without food or water by using the fat reserves that they obtained from overeating late fall.
Fat stores are made up of triglycerides and fatty acids.
Fatty acids are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. These compounds make up most of the fats found in their body.
The main function of fatty acids is to provide energy to cells.
When fatty acids are broken down, they produce energy that can be used by cells.
How Do Skunks Get Food in the Winter?
Skunks don’t usually leave their dens during winter to go look for food because they would have already gathered fruits, bird seeds, and nuts to feast on.
In addition, they would be too sluggish to forage during winter because of all the eating they did during late fall.
As long as there is enough food available for them to eat, they won’t starve.
Instead, they’ll simply sleep more during the winter months, and by doing so, they conserve energy and prevent themselves from becoming overweight.
Where Do Skunks Live in the Winter?
In winter, skunks will dwell in dens or burrows that they would’ve built during or in late fall.
Can Skunks Survive in the Cold?
Skunks can survive the cold because their fur acts like insulation, keeping their internal temperature down while they gather with their families to keep each other warm.
Do Skunks Come Out in the Winter?
In the winter, skunks spend less time foraging outside their dens, and it’s more common for several skunks to live together in a burrow.
Do Pet Skunks Hibernate?
Pet Skunks do not hibernate, but they do tend to sleep more during colder times of the year.
Do Skunks Come Out in the Day?
Skunks are not very active during the day because they are crepuscular creatures. Skunks venturing outside during the day leaves them vulnerable to predator attacks due to their poor eyesight.
Do Skunks Come Out in the Rain
Skunks are less likely to be out of their den in the rain because the strong winds along with the downpour will cause them to seek shelter to feel protected.
Pennsylvania Game Commission – Striped skunk
Skunk Haven – Skunk Temperature
Oxford Academic – Den use and heterothermy during winter in free-living, suburban striped skunks