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How Do Opossums Survive Winter?

The Virginia Opossum can be found in the United States and Canada. Many animals have a difficult time in winter, but these marsupials have adopted various tactics that help them stay alive during long winters.

Opossums do not hibernate and need to find a dry, warm shelter to make their nest. Opossums can be seen eating from trash cans in winter and drinking water from bird baths. They may make their nest inside houses and outbuildings.

Opossums have their most challenging times during winter. To find out more, please read on.

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Opossum in winter

What Is An Opossums Habitat?

Opossums are highly adaptable creatures and can thrive in a range of habitats. They can live anywhere, from forests to backyards and urban areas. In most states, opossums prefer areas along the edge of a wooded area.

This offers them food, shelter, and access to open space to move around without completely exposing themselves to predators. During winter, opossums seek out elevated roosting spots such as tree cavities or branches.

While opossums require a lot of resources, such as food, water, and shelter, they can still survive comfortably in different climates as long as their basic needs are met.

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Does An Opossums Habitat Change Seasonally?

Winter is one of the coldest months of the year, and food and fresh water become harder for animals to find.

Depending on the season, opossums may come into your yard or house, which can cause problems. However, these animals are not harmful to you or your plants.

Opossums may choose to raid trash cans for food and water. They may also start digging up your yard, looking for grubs in the soil. During winter, you may find them digging in your yard in search of a warm place for winter. 

Opossums need to find dry and sheltered areas. Due to the number of predators in wet regions, especially in winter, opossums know their usual habitats are unsafe.

Opossums choose to spend the winter in dry, safe areas. Opossums have hairless tails, toes, and ears, making them very vulnerable to frostbite in winter. Opossum fur does not protect them adequately from the elements during winter as it is not thick enough.

Where Do Opossums Live In Winter?

During winter, opossums are likely to find new, warmer habitats. In most cases, their newfound houses are likely to be found in hollow trees and logs, wood piles, buildings, burrows dug by other animals, and rock crevices.

Opossums focus on making these places as warm as possible, so they line their nests with grass and other soft materials. They carry the nesting material using their curled-up tails.

Opossums often make their dens in houses during winter for warmth and food. They may enter your home through any holes and nest in your crawl space, attic, and chimney. By doing this, they will be able to survive the winter.

Opossums have no natural defense besides playing dead and using their teeth, so they keep moving from one place to another to avoid predators. 

You shouldn’t expect to see an opossum in one nest for over a week. They usually move from one nest to the other quite quickly. If you have had one on your property, it may have left before you even realized it.

In a recent study by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, one Opossum visited 19 different dens in 5 months. The study showed that pregnant opossums could stay longer in one den, and in winter, an opossum can stay longer in one shelter. 

Opossums will not get along well with their partners during this season. If you find an opossum in your house, it will most likely be on its own. During winter, they do not like to share their nest.

Unlike other animals that share their nests during the winter to keep themselves warm, opossums focus on staying solo, which can be dangerous because of the lack of food and the construction of their nests.

Are opossums dangerous to humans?  Find out in this article I wrote

opossum in winter

Is Winter Difficult For Opossums?

Opossums have the most challenging time of the year during the winter months. Their fur doesn’t provide enough insulation, and opossums don’t store enough fat to get them through winter. 

Opossums are less likely to share their nests with other opossums, spending the season in hollow trees, abandoned burrows, and brush piles. 

Although not the most intelligent animal, they have some adaptations for getting through the cold months.

They gather nest materials, transporting them either with their mouth or grasping them with their tails. They will try to build their nest in a warm and safe area.

Opossums rely heavily on trees for their preferred habitats and food and can be affected by these changes during cold months when temperatures dip and snow accumulates.

When opossums wander away from their safe habitats looking for food or shelter during the colder months, they can be exposed to dangerous elements such as freezing temperatures, lack of food sources, or facing off against predators in unfamiliar surroundings.

Opossums tend to switch nests often because of predation. Their lifespan is two years, so they must protect themselves from predators that are also hungry in the winter.

During the winter, food is very scarce. Opossums usually hunt for food at night, making it very difficult to find food in the dark nights of winter to meet their body’s energy requirements. 

Winter makes it difficult for opossums, but ultimately, they find ways to cope with harsh conditions and continue to thrive in their natural habitat.

Did you know opossums can swim?

Do Opossums Hibernate In Winter?

Opossums are active throughout the winter and do not hibernate. They do not store food, and they do not have enough body fat to survive throughout winter.

Opossums have to be active during winter to get water and food. Opossums must also move around to avoid predators and other risks, especially during winter when animals are looking for an easy meal. 

Opossums are nocturnal, staying in their dens during the day but active at night. However, they will come out during the day, especially when food is scarce, but even in winter, they prefer to hunt at night.

Ever wondered why opossums play dead? Find out in this article I wrote

Can Opossums Live Through Cold Weather?

Opossums have to live in cold conditions, but they usually struggle because their fur doesn’t provide enough insulation. 

Opossums find winter the toughest. They need to alter their behavior to find warmer places to reside and find enough food and water. Unlike many wild animals, opossums don’t store enough fat to hibernate through winter.

Are opossums good to have around your house?  The answer might surprise you

opossum in winter

What Do Opossums Do During Winter?

Opossums prefer warm habitats, and most inhabit regions where trees provide adequate shade, allowing them to stay cool during the hot summer months. Without access to trees, opossums struggle to find warm places to rest during winter.

A decrease in human activity can lead opossums without access to buildings or similar habitats to starve since they will be unable to scavenge food sources as they did in other seasons. While opossums often take refuge in buildings during winter, those without will find winter extremely difficult.

Opossums are not very active during the winter, but they have to feed and defend themselves. Opossums will not be as active as they are in the other seasons of the year. 

During winter, they will first find a safe and warm place to live. If possible, they also prefer to stay close to food sources. 

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Do Opossums Change Their Behavior Change During Winter?

During the winter, opossums will retain their natural behavior. They are still primarily nocturnal, coming out at night to feed.

Most of their nights will be spent looking for food. In the winter, when food is scarce, they are more likely to scavenge through trash and other unusual food sources. 

Opossums can eat anything from meat to vegetables, so it is likely to find them going through your trash cans. If you see them, don’t be too hard on them; they are just trying to survive a difficult time.

References and Further Reading

Michigan news – Climate change, urbanization driving opossum’s northward march

Researchgate – Winter energetics of Virginia opossums Didelphis virginiana and implications for the species’ northern distributional limit

Journal of mammalogy – Maternal Denning Behavior and Survival of Juveniles in Opossums in Southeastern New York