Den use and heterothermy during winter in free-living, suburban striped skunks

Tad C. Theimer, Cory T. Williams, Shylo R. Johnson, Amy T. Gilbert, David L. Bergman, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Many mammals use heterothermy to meet challenges of reduced food availability and low temperatures, but little is known about the prevalence of heterothermy in wild mesocarnivores. We monitored body temperature (Tb) in free-living striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) through winter 2015–2016 in suburban Flagstaff, Arizona, a high-elevation site that experiences temperate winters. Subcutaneous Tb and heterothermy index (HI) were significantly affected by ambient temperature, and varied significantly across 7 skunks in midwinter. Twenty-one of 36 (58%) unique diurnal dens used by skunks were associated with human structures, and although females were found in dens under houses more than expected compared to males, we found little evidence that skunks selected dens where they could access anthropogenic heat sources. This is the 1st study to document Tb variation over winter in free-living striped skunks. Our results are consistent with 2 previous studies of captive skunks in documenting considerable variation among individuals in the extent of heterothermy. If reduced Tb during heterothermy alters rate of viral replication, variation among individual skunks could have implications for the maintenance and spread of diseases like rabies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)867-873
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 29 2017


  • Mephitis
  • den
  • heterothermy
  • heterothermy index
  • rabies
  • torpor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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