Wild Times: I thought you were asleep!
We had one of the most beautiful falls I can ever remember. It was such a fall season that you kind of wished it would go on for several months. I don’t ever recall seeing the fall foliage in this area looking so beautiful. It was here for only a short period of time, though.
It seems that our winter season got off to an early start and it is continuing to bear down on us. This upcoming weekend is going to get a little rough with more snow and very cold temperatures descending upon us. It always amazes me at how the animals in this part of our country seem to be able to survive those cold temps. Every time I go out to feed the cattle I am amazed at how they can survive a night when the wind chill can hit 20 below zero!
I was up feeding cattle the other morning, and I saw something that caught my attention but it did not really hit me until I got back home. I was next to the edge of some timber and I spotted a skunk waddling along the creek. It did not dawn on me until I got home, but I thought that skunks were supposed to be sleeping through the winter. There are not a lot of mammals in our state that sleep through the winter, but I sure thought that skunks would hibernate to escape the cold. Evidently, this particular skunk did not read the manual because he was not hibernating.
When I had some time, I accessed the internet and did a little studying on why this skunk was out and about. What I found out surprised me. Skunks do not actually hibernate! A skunk will search out a den for the winter. This den can be an abandoned burrow of a coyote or fox. It can be a hollow log or underneath a building foundation. It could even be underneath your porch!
Once they locate a suitable den, they will line the den with grass and leaves and also will plug the entrance with grass and leaves to keep the warmth inside. Generally skunks will den up with other skunks, which only makes sense. The skunks will utilize the heat coming off the companion skunk to survive. The skunk does not actually enter a stage of hibernation, but instead it is referred to as a state of torpor.
Torpor is defined as a state of decreased physiologically activity in an animal usually characterized by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. This state of torpor allows animals to survive long periods of low temperatures and reduced food availability. Skunks do not store up food within the cavity or burrow in which they choose to reside. They instead rely on the fat stores in their body that they built up by gorging on food just before the winter set in.
So why did I spot this skunk out roaming around the other day? When they are in this state of torpor, they will occasionally wake up when the temps rise above 30 degrees. They do this so they can go out and rummage around for some additional food to help them continue to survive. By doing this they can supplement their fat stores and come out of the den in the spring ready to seek out a mate and raise their young.
What in the world would a skunk find to eat at this time of the year? A skunk will eat just about anything on the planet. They will seek out berries, nuts, leaves, grasses, rodents, grubs, earthworms and insects. As you can see, a skunk is not picky about what they eat. The skunk will forage enough to fill up and then back to the den he will wander to wait out the next cold snap. With this cold snap heading our way this weekend, I doubt that any skunks will be out roaming around. Sounds like good advice for us as well!