Raccoons are common wildlife you’ll find in your yard. But as the cold months draw in you may have noticed that you haven’t seen them around as much. Which has left you wondering, do raccoons hibernate in the winter?
Raccoons do not hibernate in the winter months and remain active all year round. Yet raccoons can go into torpor, a temporary state of dormancy to adapt to winter conditions. Torpor enables raccoons to reduce their metabolism and activity to conserve energy.
If you want to know more about the adaptations of raccoons during winter then keep reading. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about how raccoons survive during the winter months.
Let’s jump right in.
Can raccoons hibernate?
Hibernation is an adaptation some animals can make to survive harsh winter climates. The state of hibernation enables animals to lay dormant for long periods of time. This allows them to make energy-saving physical adaptations to their body when food supplies are low.
During hibernation, animals will reduce their heart rate, breathing, metabolism, and temperature to minimal levels. Depending on the species hibernation can last anything from weeks to months.
True hibernating animals have a blood chemical known as Hibernation induction trigger (HIT). Once this is activated by environment factors they start to go into hibernation. Each animal will have different triggers such as reduced daylight or falling temperatures.
Raccoons do not have the ability to enter true hibernation. Raccoons still need to remain active during the winter months to find food and eliminate their waste. Like all animals, raccoons need to make special adaptations to help them survive the winter.
What is Raccoon torpor?
Although raccoons cannot hibernate they can go into a dormant state of torpor. Think of torpor as a light state of hibernation.
Just like hibernation, torpor allows raccoons to reduce their metabolism, heart rate, and breathing. Yet this only lasts for short periods, at most a few hours or days.
The reason raccoons go into a state of torpor is to save as much energy as they can. Winter conditions can use up a lot of energy trying to stay warm and finding good food sources. Torpor helps raccoons to save energy used up by bodily functions during periods of rest.
What do Raccoons do in the winter?
All wildlife need to make their own special adaptations to survive the cold winter months. Wild raccoons are no different. Raccoons need to make a lot of preparation before winter to make sure that they make it through.
These adaptations can help them to keep warm, safe, and have enough energy so they don’t starve.
Let’s look at how they do this.
1. Grow a winter coat
One of the first preparations a raccoon will make for winter is to grow a winter coat. This consists of them shedding hair in the summer months, then growing a dual-layer for winter.
A raccoon’s winter coat is made up of a soft, fluffy under layer and a top layer of guard hairs. The under-layer provides insulation for their skin. The guard hairs are thicker and weather resistant. This helps them keep out as much cold and wet as possible to prevent the raccoon’s temperature from dropping.
Extra fur on a raccoon will also give them a slightly darker shade to their fur. Dark colors help to absorb heat better from the sun, to keep warm.
2. Build a Fat Layer
In the summer raccoons may seem greedy by eating all the time. Yet the reason raccoons eat over their required intake is to build up a brown fat layer for winter.
Overeating in summer is the perfect time to do this as there are plenty of rich food sources available.
The brown fat layer that raccoons build up is different from a normal white fat layer. Brown fat has two distinct purposes:
- It keeps raccoons warm
- It gives them energy.
The fat layer alone keeps raccoons warm, but when brown fat breaks down it gives off heat too. These fat layers can be broken down into energy the raccoon can use when they can find adequate food supplies.
The brown fat layer is like an emergency energy store for raccoons. That means the more they can fill up in summer and fall, then the more energy they have for better chances of survival in winter. The brown fat is stored in the raccoon’s body and even their tails.
If the winter is a little bit longer or colder than expected, a raccoon’s fat stores can make the difference between them surviving or not.
3. Adapt their diet
Raccoons are omnivores and they eat a huge variety of foods. In the summer their diet mainly consists of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, and insects. Yet, in winter these foods are a lot harder to find. That’s due to smaller animals and insects hibernating, lack of crops, and no access to frozen water.
Raccoons will forage for food as best they can. This means they might not always make the best decisions. Often this can result in raccoons killing pet chickens, raiding trashcans, or even birdfeeders.
In addition to this raccoons will change to what foods are available seasonally. In winter this means eating lots of nuts, berries, and grains.
The fact that raccoons use a long period of torpor allows them to reduce their energy requirement throughout the day. That means a raccoon doesn’t need to eat as much during winter as in other seasons.
4. Build a Den
To go into a state of torpor raccoons need to find a safe and secure place. This is a top priority to help raccoons survive winter conditions. A good sheltering space will keep raccoons safe from the harsh weather and also predators.
Raccoons will use various places as dens including hollowed-out trees, rock crevices, tree stumps, and small burrows in the ground. During winter a raccoon will usually only stay in an outdoor den for a day or two before finding another.
Human spaces such as attics, chimneys, sheds, and underneath porches can become a chosen den space for local raccoons. These provide adequate shelter and often extra insulation to keep warm. In winter raccoons will often den together to conserve body heat.
If a raccoon makes its way onto your property it’s important to seal off any entrances when they leave. That’s because another raccoon will just come and take its place if you don’t.
The best thing to do is to deter Raccoons from being attracted to your yard in the first place. You can check out my guide on 14 ways to stop raccoons from coming to your yard.
5. Start Mating
Raccoons will start to mate in the winter months of January and February. This is a strategy they use to help their young survive the winters.
Raccoon kits are born around March time. That gives them a good start to life as the mothers can provide them with good food sources in spring. Once the next winter comes around the kits have matured and had some life experience.
Raccoons often don’t survive their first winter, so the older they are, the better their chances of survival.
During winter females can also spend time resting whilst pregnant, without having to waste more energy sourcing food. Their body adaptions to pregnancy also help to keep them warm due to extra blood flow.
6. Reduce activity
A raccoon’s ability to reduce its daily activity is a survival strategy the species uses in winter. That means much less foraging and much more sleeping.
To help reduce the energy during periods of rest the raccoon uses their ability to go into a state of torpor. Once the temperature falls below 15 °F (-9 °C) then a raccoon will go into a state of torpor. They will occasionally wake on warmer days for food, water and to eliminate waste, but they won’t spend long doing so.
During torpor, the raccoons will use up their brown fat stores. Depending on how long and cold the winter is they can use up to 50% of their body weight during winter.
Long periods of foraging, fleeing predators, territorial fighting, and being caught in harsh weather conditions can all use up too much energy stores for a raccoon.
If the raccoon does have enough energy stores to last during a prolonged cold spell, this will be fatal for them.
Where do raccoons go in the winter?
Raccoons are still around in winter, they’ve just reduced their daily activity to save energy.
Raccoons will try to find a place of shelter to sleep, keep safe and warm. Usually, this will be somewhere with lots of cover so that you can’t see them. They may even choose to do this on your property so look out for signs such a raccoon poop, which show they are attracted to your yard.
During winter, raccoons don’t forage as much. But when they do they want a quick and easy food source. Your garbage or birdfeeders may become a quick and easy food source for them.
Once the outdoor temperatures start to rise a little bit, you’ll see the raccoons begin to emerge.
Do raccoons migrate in winter?
Raccoons don’t migrate in winter. They are a very adaptive species and can be found in all types of climates. Raccoons living in colder climates will make physical adaptations to survive winter conditions. They will also find shelter in their local area.
Raccoons like to roam within a 1-mile radius of their territory. Preferably, they like to live near water sources as it helps provide them with a good food source. Water also helps raccoons to gain sensory feedback from their food.
A raccoon may travel slightly out with their territory to find a good food source. However, with this is the risk of being attacked by raccoons living within that territory.
Raccoons don’t hibernate in the winter but they do make special adaptations to survive. These physical, dietary, and habitat changes are necessary to help raccoons to survive.
The most noticeable change is their ability to go into a state of torpor. This is like a light hibernation state where raccoons can rest for a few days or a week at a time. They will only wake for short periods to find food.
The adaptation a raccoon makes help to keep them, safe, warm and prevent starvation from lack of food. Once the weather warms up in the spring these adaptations reverse. The raccoons return to their normal activity levels and behaviors.