Squirrels build cozy dens to stay warm in winter, but not all of them are the same. Arboreal or tree squirrels build above ground, typically in the trees, and stay active year-round.
Meanwhile, ground squirrels dig into the earth for their more insulated dens and use a different evolutionary trick known as hibernation for surviving the winter. Can squirrels freeze to death?
Squirrels can freeze to death if the temperatures drop to an extreme level or stay subfreezing for too long. Squirrels know when winter is coming and will bulk up their fur coats and body fat by 25% to stay warm during hibernation. By hibernating, squirrels reduce their metabolism, respiration, and heart rate down to almost nothing and survive on stored fat.
Do Squirrels Freeze
Squirrels do freeze, but it’s not exactly a common issue. Tree squirrels will usually hide out in their dens when temperatures get below 30 degrees, but they aren’t hibernating.
Instead, they are just staying in to stay warm as you or I might do on cold days.
Squirrels, at least the arboreal type, stay active in the winter months. After all, there’s no point in saving up all those nuts for winter if you’re not going to eat them.
While squirrels are surprisingly inept at remembering where their winter stores are, they still make them so they can keep moving and eating in the winter.
Do Squirrels Feel The Cold
Squirrels might feel the cold slightly, but it’s not as much as people or even many animals. Intriguingly, this isn’t because of their winter coats.
Squirrels are apparently adapted to respond less to the feeling of cold, so they know it exists, but it’s not really a problem for them most of the time.
According to National Geographic, “If you expose mouse or human neurons to cold, they start to fire … like crazy,” says senior author Elena Gracheva, a neurophysiologist at Yale University School of Medicine. But when Gracheva and her colleagues exposed hibernators like the 13-lined ground squirrel and the Syrian hamster to low temperatures in the lab, they saw very little activity in their TRPM8 pathway, an area of the central nervous system known to process information about cold.”
Why Don’t Squirrels Freeze To Death
Squirrels can freeze to death. However, most squirrels make it through the colder seasons with no trouble, thanks to their survival instincts.
For the tree squirrels, that means staying in when it gets frigid and staying active while eating a high-fat diet of mostly seeds and nuts when they do leave home for the day.
Do Squirrels Hibernate In Winter
Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter. Rather than expending so much energy growing giant bushy tails and collecting nuts all year, these clever little squirrels do what the bears and many other animals do and sleep through the cold.
By hibernating, they reduce their metabolism, respiration, and heart rate down to almost nothing and survive on stored fat as they go dormant to avoid winter and its scarcity issues.
Hibernating successfully means eating well in the fall so you can put on a layer of dense fat. The fat not only helps keep in warmth, but it gives the body an emergency reserve of protein to survive on when there’s no other food coming in.
Can Squirrels Die From Cold
Squirrels, like most living creatures, can die from cold. Except for a few extremophiles, most creatures have a reasonable need to stay warm.
So, while our squirrel friends may not feel the cold as easily or thoroughly as people and other animals, they can still die from too much exposure to it.
Can Squirrels Get Hypothermia
Squirrels can get hypothermia. However, they can also survive having hypothermia for a very long time. In fact, they can make it for almost three full days before the cooling becomes a terminal issue.
According to The American Journal of Physiology Legacy Content, “Artificially cooled ground squirrels survived 110 hours at a body temperature of 10°C, ‘biological survival’ time being only 75 hours. Hemoconcentration, low arterial blood pressure, and hypoglycemia have also been found in lethargic ground squirrels during the last part of survival. They cannot be rescued by rewarming. The deeply cooled animal with stabilized temperature is in a physiological state that changes with time and ultimately leads to death.”
How Cold Is Too Cold For A Squirrel
There haven’t been a lot of tests on how cold a squirrel can get. However, I can tell you that tree squirrels stay in when the temperature gets below 30 degrees.
It doesn’t seem to matter as much for hibernating ground squirrels, so long as things warm up again before they run out of fat stores.
Do Squirrels Grow Winter Coats
Fur-bearing animals all tend to grow winter coats, and squirrels are no exception.
They will shed some of the summer hair and replace it with a much denser, more layered look for winter. The thicker hair helps hold a layer of warm air near their bodies.
In addition to bulking up their fur coat, squirrels bulk up their bodies. Both hibernating ground squirrels and arboreal squirrels know when winter is coming and prepare accordingly.
Amazingly, grey squirrels can gain up to 25 percent of their summer bodyweight in fat to stay warm.
Helpful Tips To Know If Squirrels Can Freeze To Death
Squirrels can freeze to death, but they generally won’t because they have instincts and good survival skills. By bulking up, growing a winter coat, and staying n their dens when it’s too chilly, squirrels can avoid freezing.
Here are more helpful tips to know if squirrels can freeze to death.
- Squirrels use their tails as blankets when they need to stay warm. It turns out this long, fluffy appendage is suitable for more than keeping their balance in the trees.
- Another way squirrels stay warm in the winter is by becoming roommates. A group of squirrels will send the winter months together and share body heat as they sleep.
- Mammals, like squirrels, are warm-blooded, so they produce their own heat. Unfortunately, when temperatures get too low or stay low for too long, it’s impossible to heat a bloody. A mammal will start to get frostbite as its body pulls the blood in from its extremities, leaving fingers and toes to die so that the lungs, brain, and heart can stay warm enough to survive.
When squirrels get cold, they may be the last to know because of a unique adaptation that allows them to avoid feeling the cold.
Plus, squirrels have evolved thick winter coats and other survival strategies like gaining weight to stay warm in winter. Like most animals, they instinctually know when the cold is coming and prepare for it.
However, it is still technically possible for them to freeze to death. A squirrel who was caught out of their den for several days, especially if the weather got cold too quickly, would still probably freeze.