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Do Deer Hibernate? (No. And it’s a Problem…)

reindeer

Deer do not hibernate. They stay active even in extreme winter conditions.

While deer don’t hibernate, they do change their behaviors to handle colder months. They increase body fat, and grow longer winter coats.

Even with these precautions, deer populations do decrease in winter. Fawns are not born until summer and deer continue to be hunted by predators such as wolves and humans.

Why Don’t Deer Hibernate?

sleeping deer

Deer do not hibernate because their bodies have not developed the necessary adaptations they need to survive the state.

Deer, unlike animals such as bears, cannot build up enough fat to be able to store energy that will sustain them through months of winter.

Their heart and metabolic rates also can’t drop to hibernation levels to enable them to save energy while they sleep. They also do not have special long winter coats like hibernating animals to keep them warm during winter conditions.

The main reason why other animals go into hibernation is because of the lack of food. This is because most vegetation is covered by snow.

Deer, who are browsers meaning their diet mainly consists of twigs, stems and other plants; manage to find something to eat during these extreme conditions. They also supplement their diet with other foods like mushrooms, nuts and fruits. This means that they don’t have to dig through the snow to find food but sometimes need to.

The Effects of Winter on Deer

reindeer

Winter significantly affects deer numbers and movement patterns. Their heard numbers tend to decrease during such conditions.

1. They’re Less Active

During summer deer tend to be more active in the evening when the heat is more tolerable to them and early in the morning, before the scorching afternoon sun rises.

During winter they become active around noon when there is more sunlight to absorb and keep warm. They become inactive during evening hours because sunlight is low and extreme cold has started settling in.

2. Their Population Drops

Winter also affects the deer population. Their numbers tend to drop significantly between October and December. The weather limits their population growth as they won’t have fawns until spring.

Fawns also have a hard time surviving the harsh conditions. Their bodies have not developed well to be able to accommodate the drastic weather change. It is also important to note that because of the lack of enough food the mothers tend to stop producing enough milk to sustain the fawns.

3. Food is Less Abundant

The lack of food is also a big cause of death during winter. Those deer that had not stocked up on enough food to sustain them during the winter tend to die off. This is because everything gets covered in snow and food is scarce.

4. Winter Hunting Affects their Numbers

Winter also leads to an increase in wolf numbers. Wolves tend to hunt more during winter because it is easier to spot prey from a far. The conditions also tend to make escape hard.

Hunters also tend to prey on deer more during winter because they are easy to find and are generally inactive. The fact that deer tend to hide in coniferous forests during extreme cold gives the hunters an idea on where to find them.

How do Deer Survive Without Hibernating?

deer

Deer survive winter by physically preparing their bodies to survive the acute cold conditions. They undergo some physical changes as winter approaches.

1. They Shed their Summer Coats

First, they shed their light summer coat and develop guard hairs. These are longer darker hairs that help by absorbing heat from the sun to warm up the deer. Deer also grow a fluffier coat that traps body heat and insulates against the cold.

2. They Secrete Oil

The oil glands located on their skin secretes oil onto the hair making it waterproof. This is especially helpful considering the snowy conditions. The snow on their coat melts but does not penetrate into the skin to take away heat.

3. Their Body Fat Increases

During fall, deer stock up on fat that is stored under the skin and around major organs. This provides insulation against the cold and energy when food is scarce. Deer also lower their metabolism but just enough to remain alive.

4. They Get Less Active

They are also less active compared to when it is warm in summer. They are known to seek shelter especially under coniferous trees when the conditions get out of hand. The thorns trap snow and block the deer against strong cold winds. During such times they might not move for days even to look for food.

They can also browse around for twigs and nuts to eat. This helps them survive against starvation unlike other animals who succumb to it if the cold conditions last longer than usual.

FAQ: What is Hibernation?

Hibernation refers to the deep sleep-like state that animals tend to go into during winter to survive extreme conditions.

It is also referred to as torpor.

In their hibernation state, animals experience a reduction in physical activities. Their heart rate and breathing drops to below half the normal rates. Metabolism also drops to just 1% of the normal metabolic rate.

Hibernation helps the animal cope with environmental changes like lack of food and water and to survive extreme cold.

The hibernating animal usually builds up fat that is stored under the skin and around important organs like the heart and liver. The fat acts as a source of energy as the animal sleeps. It also acts as insulation to keep the animal warm during winter.

Hibernation however leaves most animals vulnerable to predators. This is because the animal is in a deep state of sleep and will not react when confronted. This is however not the case for all animals.

The animal also loses up to a quarter of their body weight. They also wake up weak that is if they actually manage to wake up at all. Some of them die during hibernation if they had not stored up enough food.

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Conclusion

Hibernation has its advantages and disadvantages. Deer have adapted to surviving long winters perfectly without the need to hibernate. This makes them less easy targets for predators unlike animals that do hibernate who tend to be sitting ducks.  However, the fact that they don’t hibernate means that they have to be conscious to experience the ruthlessness of winter. Those that were well prepared for those conditions are sure to survive.

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