Do raccoons hibernate during winter?

Raccoons right now are going through many changes to prepare for winter. Rather than being strictly norcturnal, they’re becoming more active at dawn and dusk, and are developing a strong instinct to forage on high-fat foods and seek shelters. All these changes prepare them “Diet Hibernation” during the coldest months, known scientifically as torpor.

Torpor differs from true hibernation. Animals in true hibernation sleep for weeks or months at a time and don’t need to eat or drink. Bears can even give birth during hibernation, barely waking up in the process!

While raccoons in the coldest parts of their range may sleep for several days at a time during torpor, they never experience the dramatically slowed metabolism that true hibernators experience. During torpor, some raccoons come out during the warmest part of the day to forage for food. Torpor serves the same purpose as hiberation: it enables animals to make it through the lean months with little food.

If you’re one who can relate to a raccoon’s desire to spend the winter sleeping and coming out only to eat “comfort food,” that’s because humans have a torpor instinct just like our wild neighbors. We tend to sleep more and gain weight during the winter, and many experts believe that torpor instinct is a major contributor to seasonal depression. These coming months are hard for most wild creatures, and we’re no exception!

If you see raccoons foraging in the daytime and they appear otherwise healthy, there’s no need to panic and assume they have rabies. They’re just adjusting their habits with the seasons, as nature intended!

Leave the leaves

A simple way to make life better for all the small critters that rely on leaf litter is to leave your rake in the shed and let the leaves stay on the ground until spring. Fallen leaves are important to the tiny ecosystem that exists in your own backyard. Butterflies, moths, earthworms, toads, salamanders, and many other small animals spend the winter under leaf litter and depend on it for their survival.

Leaf litter, made up of leaves, twigs, and pieces of bark, is an important component of healthy soil. The decomposing litter releases nutrients into the soil and holds in moisture. It also serves as great nesting material, hiding places, and protected spots for animals. This dead organic material provides the perfect habitat for a plethora of organisms, including worms, snails, spiders, and microscopic decomposers like fungi and bacteria. 

Make greener choices this season and give local wildlife a helping hand!