Face to face with a Virginia opossum in the snow.
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Do Opossums Hibernate?

Possums are fascinating marsupials found primarily in the Americas. They have captivated people for generations with their distinctive appearance and ability to play dead. While opossums are known to feign death when threatened, one thing they don’t do is hibernate.

Instead, they adapt to their environment using torpor, when an animal reduces its body temperature to conserve energy. These critters can cope with harsher conditions without fully hibernating. 

Let’s look at how possums adapt to the winter months and the unique ways they survive without hibernating. 

Key Pest Points:

• Opossums do not hibernate but have special adaptations that allow them to survive the winter, like padding their den with grass and leaves.

• They enter a special torpor or reduced activity state and often seek warm, secure areas to survive until spring.

What is Hibernation?

Hibernation is an unusual behavior seen in many creatures like bears. It’s a survival technique where they slow down their heart and breathing rates, then drop their body temperature to conserve energy and resources when food becomes scarce.

Bears, bats, and hedgehogs are some species that hibernate. As soon as colder weather sets in, they start creating dens or burrows before entering into a state of dormancy so they can rest until warmer temperatures arrive again. Most hibernators will wake up for a quick stretch before dozing off once more.

Hibernation is an excellent example of how animals have adapted to survive harsh conditions. It allows them to conserve resources and stay through the winter months.

What Happens During Hibernation?

Animals like bears and bats are some of the most famous hibernators—but even insects and snails enjoy a long winter nap. Bears eat a lot of food before settling into their cozy caves or tree hollows for months.

On the other hand, bats love to have slumber parties in groups – often hanging together from cave ceilings. Their hearts slow down, and they can lower their body temperature.

When it comes to hibernation, animals must find the perfect place that offers little disturbance and plenty of warmth. They often turn to caves and burrow underground or hollows in old tree stumps.

A closeup of a Common Opossum on a winter day.  Its head is tilted up slightly so you can see under its chin.  It is snowing slightly, there is some snow in the background, and some snow on the Opossum’s fur.

Do Possums Hibernate in the Winter?

Opossums are among the animals on earth that don’t hibernate. Despite their fascinating appearance and unique behaviors, these critters adapt to winter temperatures to conserve energy.

Instead of burying themselves for months like bears or other woodland creatures do – they’ll stay tucked away a little longer but won’t take those long naps. Instead, they enter into a reduced activity state known as torpor, similar to hibernation but without entering fully.

Torpor still allows them to conserve resources when food is scarce, but it will also enable opossums to stretch and move around occasionally. That way, they don’t have to stay cooped up in one spot and can scavenge for food when needed.

What Do Possums Eat in Winter?

Possums are omnivores and don’t stick to any one food source. They’ll happily munch on anything from fruits, vegetables, insects, small mammals, and carrion.

Still, they’re opportunistic feeders who can go without food for several days. So when the weather turns cold, opossums eat whatever they can find. They may also scavenge for food in trash cans or bird feeders and yards more often, thanks to their amazing sense of smell.

Where Do Opossums Stay in Winter?

Opossums live in a variety of habitats, from forests to urban areas. But as winter approaches, they face the challenge of staying warm and finding food when temperatures drop, which is where their ability to adapt kicks in.

Winter can be challenging for opossums. For instance, they can get frostbite if they stay out too long in the cold. However, they use their resourcefulness and ingenuity when temperatures drop to cozy up in hollowed-out trees or abandoned burrows. They’ll even create little nests made from leaves and grass.

Opossums are opportunistic feeders that will eat almost anything, which helps them stay full during those cold winter months when food is harder to come by. So while hibernation isn’t an option with these creatures, they have plenty of ways to survive until springtime. 

opossum up close on the ground with wet paws.

What To Do If You Find an Opossum in Your Home?

If you find one on your property, don’t panic. These marsupials stay active throughout the year but look for warm and safe places during the winter: hollow logs, burrows, or decks. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t try to pick up or handle an opossum: They may bite if provoked or feel threatened. 
  • Make noises: Open all exterior doors, turn on outdoor lights, and make a loud noise so the opossum will go away.
  • Use humane traps: If the opossum lingers around, you can use a humane trap to capture and release it back into the wild safely.
  • Apply natural repellents: You can also use natural repellents like peppermint oil to deter them from returning.
  • Contact your local wildlife agency: If you can’t get rid of the opossum yourself, contact your local wildlife agency so they can help. Opossums are not typically dangerous, so that they can be safely relocated.

These nocturnal animals are fascinating to observe, but if they take up residence in your home, it’s essential to know how to safely and humanely remove them. Hibernation season comes every year, so make sure you’re prepared.

FAQs

What do opossums do during the winter?

Opossums are capable of withstanding even the harshest winters. Instead of hibernating like other animals during this period, they enter into a torpor state that helps slow down their metabolism and conserve energy to survive until warmer weather returns.

What do opossums eat in winter?

Opossums are opportunistic feeders that will eat almost anything, which helps them stay full during those cold winter months when food is harder to come by.

How long will a possum stay in my yard?

Possums usually stay in one area for no more than a few days and will typically move on once they have found food or shelter. 

Do opossums have babies in the winter?

Yes, opossums can reproduce in the winter. They typically breed from January to June and give birth to their young in the early spring.

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