Do Deer Hibernate?

Basit Ali Chaudhary

It is common for some animals to hibernate during the winter in order to survive through harsh winter. Some common animals that hibernate during the winter are bears, ground squirrels, hedgehogs, etc. But what about deer? Do deer hibernate?

The short answer is no; deer don’t hibernate. Deer are considered to be “cold-tolerant” animals, meaning they can handle cold temperatures, but still, they must find food in order to survive. To help them stay warm in the winter, deer also grow a full winter coat of thick fur, which helps protect them from snow and cold winds.

Since they do not have the biological ability to stay hungry for weeks and sleep through winter like other species, that’s why they can’t hibernate. Their metabolism needs to be continuously fed. And to battle against colder temperatures, deer will gradually lower their metabolism, grow a heavy and warm coat of fur, huddle together in groups and find shelter from hard winds and extreme weather conditions. 

Now, let’s go deep and analyze how deer survive through winter without hibernating.

Winter Adaptations: How Deer Survive Cold Temperatures Without Hibernation

If you have ever gone hunting in some snow area with strong winds blowing, it’s obvious you would have taken all necessary essentials to stay warm such as a thick jacket, warm boots, gloves, caps, or even goggles. But did you ever thought, How Do Deer Stay Warm in the winter?

Grow a Thick Coat

The first thing is deer prepare themselves in advance for preparation for winter, such as shedding their lighter summer coat and starts growing their dense heavier winter coat with hollow hair shafts. Their coats get about five times thicker than in warmer months. This outer layer insulation helps conserve body heat.

Diet Adaption 

Secondly, they start eating more in the fall and store fat which is essential during the winter season when food becomes limited. In fact, research conducted by Deer Forest found that once winter begins, deer have managed to store approximately 20% of their body weight as fat reserves. This dietary change, paired with other adaptations, helps them to maintain warmth and energy so they can make it through the winter months without hibernation.

Before winter, they adjust their diets. And before the colder temperatures arrive, deer start to look for denser food sources like nuts and berries that will help them bulk up extra fat to withstand the cold. This extra fat intake is essential as it serves as a natural insulation.

Moving Less to Stay Warm and preserve energy

Third, deer limit their physical activity, which helps them conserve energy and survive the harsh winter temperatures. They do this by reducing their metabolic rate, heart rate, and other bodily functions that burn energy. This enables them to stay alive in much colder climates than humans can survive. 

Perhaps even more interestingly, recent research conducted by Aaron N. Moen (from the Department of Natural resources, Cornell University) about whitetail deer, has found that red deer lower their heart rate even further when they aren’t getting enough food, suggesting a form of adaptation in deer to try and conserve energy in times of food scarcity.

Finding Warm Shelter

In the winter, deer will also seek warm shelter. Deer need more protection from the cold than usual. Therefore, they try to find somewhere heavily wooded to shelter in, which provides them with both safety and warmth. They will find dry places and will bed down under trees. This could be a hollow tree or bush that is dense enough to keep the cold out and provide coverage from predators – without too much walking distance between it and a food source. This way, deer can find an area of shelter for a few days during periods of extreme weather conditions.

The Vital Role of Fur: How Deer Use Their Coats to Survive Winters

Deer need to stay warm and dry in the cold. To keep their bodies from freezing, their coat plays a significant role. The coat is made up of thick hollow hairs, which act as an effective barrier against moisture and frigid temperatures. 

The deer’s winter coat is thick and specially designed to ensure its survival in the cold season. It has two components: guard hairs that are hollow and 2 inches longer than the undercoat and an especially dense and soft layer of fur to provide maximum insulation. 

Furthermore, if you observe closely, the color of the coat gets darker in winter as well. It’s a way to better absorb solar heat on cold days, but also as good camouflage for when it blends in with dark shadows on the forest floor. 

What is the coldest temperature a deer can survive?

Deer can survive in extreme temperatures ranging from -30 F to -45 F. But on the highest end, you can expect the deer to even survive at temperatures of -50°F as well. You can also get a more precise answer by looking into the lowest temperature of areas where deer are found. It’s obvious if deer located in those areas survive through winter, then this means they have the tendency to bear that temperature. 

Do Deer Migrate?

This depends on the deer’s habitat. Some deer do prefer to migrate, while some don’t. Generally speaking, deer that live in harsh climates are more likely to migrate to survive the cold seasons. Those who inhabit warmer climates may not need to move at all or only make minor shifts between feeding grounds. Deer that live in larger groups also tend to migrate more frequently since the collective movement offers protection from predators.

For some deer species, migration is a regular part, while other species prefer to stay in their natural environment all year long. Caribou are a well-known type of deer, and they do travel long distances, and they also prefer to set their territories for winter and summer. Mule deer also take part in migration from one area to another. They also travel long for hundreds of miles in herds in search of food and to prevent extreme temperatures.

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