Abstract

Four striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) were held outdoors near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, throughout the winter with an unlimited food supply to< examine aspects of winter dormancy in this species. Body weights and food intake were measured at monthly and weekly intervals, respectively. A treadle positioned at the entrance to each nest box and wired to an Esterline-Angus event recorder provided a continuous quantitative record of physical activity. No evidence of natural hypothermia was observed. Body weights increased in October and November, remained stable in December and January, decreased in February and March, and increased in April. Physical activity followed the same fundamental pattern shown by food intake. Both food intake and physical activity showed a strong correlation with ambient temperature. The skunks were largely nocturnal in October, November and April, but were strictly nocturnal from December to March inclusive. We consider the depression in growth, food intake and physical activity observed in the confined striped skunks in midwinter to be some of the characteristics of winter dormancy (carnivorean lethargy) in this species. We hypothesize that the characteristics of winter dormancy would be more fully expressed in the absence of a winter food supply.

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