Do Skunks Hibernate in Winter?

During winter, you’ll rarely see a skunk scurrying about because they prefer to hide out in their toasty dens. But do skunks hibernate in winter?

Nov 15, 2023By Lisa Szymanski
do skunks hibernate in winter

Skunks are very active creatures, but when the days start getting colder, they disappear. Despite their furry coats to keep warm, skunks don’t like winter and form dens to take shelter from rain and snow. They don’t exactly hibernate, so while you might see less of them, they will leave their burrows to scavenge. If you find a den in winter, it could be a skunk taking refuge from the cold. To understand whether skunks hibernate in winter, we explore what these animals get up to when it’s cold outside.

What Do Skunks Get Up to in Winter?

skunk walking in snow
A skunk is less active in winter.

Animals such as bats and bears hibernate when temperatures plummet by hiding away, sleeping, and living on their reserve body fat. When it comes to skunks, they’re less active in cold weather, but they don’t hibernate. These smelly animals will hide inside their den and live on their reserves until they get hungry and come out in search of food. They do sleep for some of the time that they’re tucked away, but they become more active with slight increases in temperature. During extreme cold spells, female skunks will huddle together in one burrow. More than ten females will squeeze themselves into the den to stay warm.

Where Do Skunks Go When It’s Cold?

litter of young striped skunks in tree stump
A litter of young skunks in a hollow tree stump.

As winter arrives, skunks prepare by building themselves a cozy den, much like a fox. This means that they might come knocking on your door to dig a hole in preparation for icy and cold conditions. A skunk looks for food to scavenge and sheltered environments when they want to prepare a home. They get close to houses during this time and like to dig underneath porches and patios. Interestingly, if you pass by a skunk den in winter, you can smell some of their pungent odor as it wafts through the air. I don’t advise getting too close, as these small animals will quickly defend their territory when they perceive a threat. You should call a local wildlife rescue if you suspect that skunks have nestled on your property. On a positive note, a skunk will dig a single ditch or nest in wood piles. When compared to a wombat that can form a tunnel of almost 100 feet, a skunk’s den might not seem that bad.

When Do Skunks Have Pups?

mother skunk carrying pup in her mouth walking on log
A skunk mother carrying her pup.

From early January to the middle of March, as the temperatures increase, skunks start venturing out. The arrival of spring marks the mating season and a time when these black and white animals are most temperamental. Once a female finds her mate, she does something special if the temperature and weather don’t improve. She will prevent fertilization of the eggs by holding the sperm of the male in a separate compartment. Only when she thinks that the outdoor environment is suitable for raising pups will pregnancy occur. It takes just over 60 days for a skunk to have pups. If you live in areas frequented by skunks, remember that males and females will be searching for a mate. This increases the likelihood that you may come across one of these animals while out. Should you or your dog encounter a skunk, simply back away and leave them alone. It is the safest way to avoid getting sprayed!

Why Do Skunks Create Dens?

skunk den
Skunks will take over other animals’ dens.

A skunk will build a den to house its young and protect itself from wind, rain, and snow. Their dens range from a deep hole in the ground to using piles of wood, hollow tree trunks, or rocks to hide away. Skunks don’t always make their own burrows, and if they find one abandoned by another animal, they won’t waste time moving in. Dens help them hide from predators, including giant owls, coyotes, and even bobcats. A skunk is equipped to burrow deep into the soil because they have large claws on their front feet. You can tell that a skunk has moved in by their 6-inch hole in the ground that has a foul odor at the entrance.

Why Don’t Skunks Hibernate?

a skunk standing next to a tree
A skunk walking in the bush.

Skunks take extended rests in winter, similar to hibernation, but they don’t go into dormant sleep. Unlike other animals that hibernate by sleeping the winter away, skunks will move out of their den if they don’t feel safe or need food. They have fat to serve as fuel in cold months, but these furry creatures like to scavenge and also eat small birds, rodents, frogs, and wasps. These super-sprayers don’t hibernate, they just become less active in freezing temperatures. If you notice a den in snow or dirt, a skunk might just be hiding inside.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.