As winter approaches, animals are preparing to seek shelter from the cold and are building up stores of fat to help them survive. Raccoons undergo several adaptations to help them make it through the cold months.
Raccoons grow a thick winter coat that traps body heat close to their skin and keeps them warm both in and out of their dens. Raccoons in colder climates grow thicker coats than those in warmer locations.
Raccoons build up stores of fat in the summer and fall. Body fat accumulates mostly in their tails, which they can wrap around themselves to keep warm. During the winter, raccoons lose 14 to 50 percent of their body weight, depending on how far north they live and how severe the winter is.
Raccoons are omnivores. They eat plants, animals, eggs, insects, and human garbage. This variability in their diet helps them in the winter when food is scarce. During the winter, raccoons typically eat acorns, corn, fruit, insects, and injured waterfowl and small animals, but they will eat other things that are available.
Raccoons look for warm places to make dens in the winter. They choose places such as hollow trees, underground burrows abandoned by other animals, caves, and buildings. They sometimes share dens with other raccoons to take advantage of body heat.
Raccoons may enter a state of torpor, which is similar to hibernation. They may sleep in a curled position for weeks, which reduces the amount of energy they need to survive. Their body temperature is lowered, and insulin production increases, which reduces blood sugar. On warm days, raccoons may wake up and leave their dens to look for food. Torpor gives raccoons many of the benefits of hibernation but still allows them to be on the lookout for predators and food. Torpor lasts longer for raccoons in colder climates. Raccoons in warmer climates may not enter torpor.