Opossums originated from Central and South America and made their way to the United States some 800,000 years ago. With their thin coats and hairless ears, tails, and feet, the little marsupials are much more suited to their original hotter environments, not snowy winters!
Despite that, the species has been found more and more frequently in the northern states, drawn by warmer winters and the prevalence of food in urban areas.
So how has the tiny, floofy, tropical marsupial adapted to survive the cold, harsh months? How do they stay warm, and where do they find food? Floofmania gets into it!
Do Opossums Hibernate In The Winter?
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North American opossums do not hibernate. Instead, they go into a state of torpor for a few hours daily.
Torpor means slowing bodily functions, including metabolism and heart rate, and lowering body temperature to match the environment. This allows animals to conserve precious energy and calories, even for short periods.
Torpor is theoretically the same as hibernation, except hibernation lasts for weeks or months, while torpor is only for a few hours or days at most.
Unlike hibernators, those that only go into torpor still need to get up to forage for food or water regularly. They may also decide to move to get under the sun and soak up more warmth while available.
Do Opossums Migrate To Warmer Places In The Winter?
Opossums do not migrate to warmer places in the winter.
However, this misconception may have originated because opossums become less active and tend to hole up in their nests or shelters for more hours of the night. They also change homes less often than they would in other seasons.
This may have led some to speculate that the opossums have temporarily left when, in reality, they are only in hiding.
How Do Opossums Survive In Winter?
Opossums only have a lifespan of two to four years, meaning they only need to deal with winter less than a handful of times. Still, that’s a few too many times for their comfort.
They tend to eat voraciously to gain weight and extra fat in preparation for winter. But once winter hits, how do they survive?
Where Can You Find Opossums In Winter?
The opossum’s primary concern every winter is getting and staying warm.
While they typically move homes every few days during warmer months to avoid predators, they tend to stay longer in one place during winter, sometimes up to an entire week. They do this to lessen their time outside.
Typical opossum homes during winter include:
- Hollow trees and fallen logs.
- Piles of wood or rocks.
- Abandoned burrows of other animals.
- Rock crevices.
- Inside attics and crawl spaces.
- Inside abandoned buildings or homes.
Generally, they pick sheltered, warm places close to food and water sources. This is extremely important because opossums do not store food but need to eat constantly to keep their bodies strong and warm throughout winter.
Once they have identified a spot, they build themselves a simple, comfortable nest usually lined with grass, leaves, and other soft, insulating materials.
Unlike other animals that huddle together in groups in nests to share body heat, opossums prefer to stay alone. This is because they consider every other opossum a threat to their precious winter food supply.
Are Opossums Less Active In Winter?
Opossums become less active in the winter to conserve energy and calories.
They also spend as much time indoors as possible during winter to avoid the cold. The species is naturally unequipped for the weather – their little ears and tail are vulnerable to frostbite!
Still, they cannot simply stop tending to their basic needs: They go out to change nests roughly once a week and search for food and water wherever they can find them nearly every night.
Also, despite the change in season, opossums remain nocturnal through the winter months.
When they are not out tending to their basic needs, opossums stay in their nest either in a state of torpor, doing minor nest repairs, or simply resting and sleeping.
What Do Opossums Eat In Winter?
Opossums are opportunistic eaters that eat whatever is available. They eat fruit, vegetables, meat, seeds, nuts, grubs, and rodents and won’t shy away from roadkill and rotting food.
In the winter, when food is scarce, they are forced to become even more resourceful. They can scavenge up to two miles away from their nests to look for food.
Homeowners frequently report spotting opossums digging through their garbage cans and yards. They can also eat seeds from bird feeders and pet food left outside. As always, they are not picky and will settle for whatever they can find to fill their bellies.
How Can I Help Opossums Survive Winter?
Opossums primarily need warmth and food. If you want to help opossums in your yard, you can leave them a little insulated pet house or nesting box where they can live.
You can also leave the opossum some food and water. They will eat anything from fruit to seeds to nuts and even scraps of meat, regardless of freshness.
Opossums are generally safe to have around, and some even consider the species friendly enough to keep as pets. However, be warned that there is always the possibility that they may overstay their welcome and end up turning into your backyard pests.
Author: Bernice Go
Bernice Go is a violinist and orchestra manager by profession but a writer by hobby. She enjoys writing about various topics, from music to animals to self-development. When she isn’t playing the violin or writing, she loves reading, traveling, playing video games, and savoring a good cup of coffee.