Answering The Question: Do Skunks Hibernate?
Do skunks hibernate? It’s a multiple choice question; the answer to which is No. Yet, you’ll quite often see articles or simply statements indicating that skunks do hibernate. This may be in part due to the fact that during cold winter weather skunks will retreat into their dens, and may stay there for quite some time, weeks or even months, until the weather improves. As soon as the weather has warmed up, they reappear.
Animals which hibernate go into hibernation at the start of the cold season and stay in hibernation, even if there are short breaks where the weather warms up. These animals are in a deep sleep, and remain that way until their biological clock, or the change in temperatures, tells them it’s time to start thinking about getting up.
Do Skunks Hibernate? – If Not What Do They Do? – What a skunk does, instead of hibernating, is to go into a state called a torpor. A torpor is more like a light sleep than a deep sleep, at least as far as compared to hibernation is concerned. When in a torpor, the skunk’s metabolism slows down, its heart rate slows down, and its body temperature goes down. Before going into torpor the skunk will go into its den, usually with a number of other skunks, and seal up the entrance, making it appear for all the world like it is hibernating.
Instead of staying in the torpor state for long periods of time, as would be the case if they were truly hibernating, the skunk will usual awaken if the temperature warms up, and may even go outside the den. Unless the weather remains warm, the skunk will eventually go back into its state of torpor.
Webster’s New Word Dictionary defines torpor as –
a state of motor and mental inactivity with partial or total insensibility; extreme sluggishness or stagnation of function
– Not unlike many humans before the first cup of coffee in the morning.
There are many other animals besides skunks that go into torpor, including raccoons, badgers, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. At the risk of getting into an argument, bears actually go into a state of torpor rather than hibernation, though one always hears about bears hibernating.
Obviously, when a skunk or any animal is in torpor, it is very vulnerable, which makes seeking a deep den with a sealed entrance understandable. Pet skunks rarely have the need to go into torpor, especially if they spend time most of their time indoors. They may sleep for longer periods and be a little less active during periods of cold winter weather, but for the most part remain quite alert and reasonably active the year around.
Skunks, like chipmunks, go into torpor not just because the weather is too cold, after all, they do have fairy thick fur coat, but they go into this period of inactivity because their food supply is scarce, and being rather small animals, don’t store a lot of fuel. Sleeping through what would be lean times helps them survive.
When The Skunk’s Asleep, Others Are Safe – Most potential predators can take a deep breath, no pun intended, when the skunk is in torpor. The skunk is for good reason a rather fearless animal, and usually doesn’t run from anything. Bears, mountain lions, weasels, bobcats, and other would-be predators usually keep their distance from the skunk, or might even run the other way if they see a skunk stamping its front feet and raising its tail. If not, they soon learn too. About the only predator the skunk has to fear is the horned owl, though larger hawks could also be a danger.
Do skunks hibernate? Now you know the real answer.