How Do Raccoons Adapt During Winter?

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raccoons survive well in the wild, even in winter months
raccoons survive well in the wild, even in winter months (Image: raccoon image by antoine perroud from Fotolia.com)

Raccoons are very adaptable mammals, ranging all the way from Central America to Canada. They have adapted well to a lot of different climates, as well as to human interference of their habitat because they are omnivorous and have a unique form of partial hibernation. They are also very dexterous, giving them a good selection of living spaces and the ability to find something to eat almost anywhere.

Diet

Raccoons are omnivorous, meaning they eat a mixture of meat and vegetation. Their diet differs throughout the year and depends on where they live. During the winter, raccoons switch their diet from things like crayfish and insects to focus specifically on fat-rich foods such as acorns and corn. They will store as much fat as possible for a partial hibernation later in the winter when food is very scarce. Humans have made it easier for raccoons to survive in many habitats, as a favorite food location for raccoons is now a garbage can.

Partial Hibernation

Raccoons do not officially hibernate during the winter, but may exhibit a type of partial hibernation. They will sleep in dens for up to a month at a time, and can live off of up to 50 percent of their stored fat before reemerging. Raccoons will come out and forage for food on the warmer days, and may go back to sleep for a while once it is cold again.

Dens

These mammals prefer hollows in trees or logs, but will also use leftover burrows made by other animals in the ground. Other mammals will often sleep in dens with raccoons during these times of partial hibernation. Skunks, muskrats, opossums and raccoons may all share a den. They may also sleep in large piles with other raccoons, even though they are mainly solitary in nature. This helps them conserve body heat during sleep time to waste less energy, since they do not undergo as many metabolic changes as true hibernating mammals.

Coat

Many mammals grow a thicker coat in the winter to help deal with the cold temperatures. Since they are warm-blooded, they need their internal body temperature to be regulated. Since raccoons stay relatively active during the winter, they need this to happen for their survival. They will shed in the spring, just like dogs, making the raccoons look almost sick. The coat will start to thicken up again as early as August.

Reproduction

Raccoons mate during the late winter months while females lay in their dens. The males will mate with several females during the winter, moving from den to den to do so. The females will stay in their dens for most of the first few months of their cubs' lives.

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