Do Skunks Hibernate? Where, When, How and Why? a Guide


Ever wondered what skunks do in the winter and whether they hibernate? or not? And if so then when, where and how? Well, in this article we’re going to answer all those questions for you.

First, here’s the quick answer for you, then we’ll dive into more detail.

Do skunks Hibernate? Skunks do not fully hibernate, they enter a dormant state called “Torpor”. Torpor is a state of reduced body temperature and metabolic rate, like a ‘lethargic sleep’. However, skunks remain inactive for short periods during winter mostly during the day. They do step out to forage for food.

Winter has a great influence on many animals. It’s quite interesting to watch how animals adapt to the changing weather and prepare themselves physically to endure the wintertime.

However, the cozy winter weather may bring problems along with it, such as animals invading your properties for shelters.

On animal you especially don’t want inside your property is a skunk. One common confusion about skunks is that of “do they hibernate?” This article will give a complete overview of if skunks hibernate? If they don’t, what they do? And many more facts.  

do skunks hibernate (2)
do skunks hibernate (2)

Do skunks hibernate?

Skunks do not actually hibernate. They are one of those animals that you would think do hibernate but in fact, they actually don’t …well, not hibernate as such…

During winter skunks only enter a dormant state. A state scientifically called “Torpor” which is a state of both mental and physical inactivity. They enter this state when the temperature drops and sources of food become more scarce.

During the dormant state, you could say that skunks are more in a lethargic, dormant sleep – much like a dormouse. This state is what also makes them avoid falling into a complete state of hibernation.

When skunks enter the dormant state their body temperature lowers, in turn, this slows down their metabolism and breathing.

This doesn’t mean they become inactive like animals do when they fully hibernate. Skunks when they enter a dormant stage will remain inactive for only a short period, mostly during the day.

Most of the time skunks remain in their cozy dens and will step out when the temperature is above 30 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Skunks during these cold days of winter can lower their body temperatures down to about 20 degrees for short periods. This gives them the strength needed to go out and forage for the food they need.

It’s mostly during the night when skunks decide to go out foraging for food.

So now let’s go into how skunks prepare themselves to survive this cold weather.

How do they prepare for the winter?

You might already know that squirrels stockpile food during cold months. That’s how squirrels prepare themselves for winter.

But skunks are animals that are more accustomed to going outside and foraging for food during winter if they need it. But as a means of preparation, all that skunks do is focus on gaining weight. They eat as much as they can before winter to increase their weight.

The extra weight gives skunks build up a layer of fat. This layer of fat gives skunks enough warmth to survive the winter. This also gives them enough energy to step out and resist the cold while foraging for food. Usually, during winter skunks keep foraging for food until they are snowed in.

When temperatures hit colder lows, a skunk will purposefully block the entryway to its den/burrow with grass, leaves and other objects. This helps protect them from the elements outside.

Where do skunks live during the winter?

Since skunks tend to be active during the winter – although, in a dormant state, they need to keep themselves warm enough to survive through the winter.

So, during winter skunks look to live in places that can provide them enough warmth throughout the coldest winter period. But skunks tend to be lazy when it comes to building their own dens or burrows. So they often look for places that have holes or dens left by other animals like old fox dens, woodchuck burrows and so on. 

Although they have all the physical ability to create dens using their claws, they prefer taking shelter in abandoned dens or under decks.

However, they’re also very picky when it comes to choosing a spot to live during the winter. Skunks usually choose spots that are hard to find and which look like nothing out of the ordinary.

Best examples are places under a pile of leaves and logs. Sometimes skunk dens are so discrete that you may have a hard time finding if it’s an old pile of leaves or an actual den. It might only be the smell that signals that there’s a nest nearby.

While that’s the case with skunks in rural areas around forests and woodlands, skunks can even spend their winter in your property. Your garage, deck, and even sheds are ideal spots for skunks to live during the winter.

This is because since these places are often close to heated homes, this can give them the warmth they need. These places in properties also provide skunks with an easy hideaway to get away from predators.

skunk den
skunk den

How do skunks spend the winter?

Skunks are generally animals that live in groups. But then when winter approaches they group up even more for warmth – especially females. This means they can take advantage of social thermoregulation.

So, usually, females group up together to spend their winter vacation. As many as 12 female skunks can be found in one den at one time. These dens are called “Communal dens”. These communal dens are also common with a mother skunk and her babies. 

However, male skunks can often opt to spend winter alone but do group together in winter – which they certainly wouldn’t do at other times of the year.

This lethargic sleep phase in dens continues from December to March (northern hemisphere). During this period the skunks lose up to about 30% of their body weight. This is also one of the reasons why skunks prepare for winter by eating enough food to lay down fat reserves. 

What do skunks eat in the winter?

Skunks are diggers like moles, possums, and armadillos. And grubs are their staple diet. Fortunately, grubs are plentiful during cold months.

During the winter grubs lay dormant in the ground munching on roots getting ready for their spring and summer metamorphoses. So these provide a readymade food source for skunks.

Other than these skunks also eat, eggs, insects, worms, snakes and other tiny animals. They will also forage for frozen berries, nuts, roots, grass, and leaves. 

And skunks also forage for food infrequently during winter. But as they’re nocturnal animals, they do their foraging and digging during the night.

And since food is scarce, even a small amount of food in your property can easily attract skunks. Food sources like an opened garbage can, pet food left in a porch, garage or even a shed can be very attractive for skunks in winter.

And if they realize there’s a food source easily available in a property they may easily move out to your property to spend the winter. And that’s not all. even though skunks use a number of dens throughout the year, they may locate them in or near your property all-year-round – near the food source!

Learning Resources

Help keep the site going and support our contributions to wildlife projects by learning more about skunks with these learning resources we’ve sourced on Amazon. Great for teaching children both at home or at school.

All About Skunks

Learn more about skunks with this book for children that includes descriptive texts and pictures.

Video Resources

To finish

Although fascinating creatures, skunks are not to be messed with. They can spray a foul-smelling liquid up to 15 feet, so even if they’re hibernating under your floorboards you might want to get a pest control expert to come and deal with them.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about when, where and how skunks hibernate. Do check out our other articles to find out the answers to all those wildlife questions you always wondered about but never asked.

This content has been checked and verified by a qualified veterinary practitioner. The article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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