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The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is the only marsupial 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, cold winters.

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

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

Opossum in winter

What Is The Habitat Of An Opossum?

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

These areas offer them food, shelter, and access to open space to move around while staying hidden from 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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Opossum Behavior In Winter

Winter is one of the coldest months of the year, and food and fresh water become harder for animals to find. In winter, opossums are more likely to make a home in your yard or house, which can cause potential problems.

Opossums often raid trash cans for food and water in winter. 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 to nest. 

Opossums need to find dry, sheltered areas. Due to the increased danger from predators in winter due to the lack of food, opossums know their usual habitats are unsafe.

Opossums need a warm area to live. They have hairless tails, toes, and ears, making them very vulnerable to frostbite. 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 need to find new, warmer habitats. In most cases, their nests 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 often move from one place to another to avoid predators. 

If you have an opossum in your house, they normally move from one nest to another after a week. You shouldn’t expect to see an opossum in one nest for over a week during the other seasons but in winter they may stay longer. 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 often stays longer in one shelter. 

Opossums are solitary animals in winter. 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 themselves.

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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 animals, 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 nest to look for food or shelter during the colder months, they can be exposed to freezing temperatures, lack of food sources, or predators.

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

During the winter, food is very scarce. Opossums usually hunt for food at night, making it very difficult to find food on the dark nights of winter. 

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 do not have enough body fat to survive the cold.

Opossums have to be active during winter to look for water and food. Opossums must move nests 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 when food is scarce.

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

opossum in winter

Do Opossums Change Their Behavior Change During Winter?

During winter, opossums 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. 

  1. Reduced Activity: Opossums become less active during winter. They are primarily nocturnal animals, but in colder months, they may reduce their nightly activity levels to conserve energy.
  2. Increased Foraging: To survive the winter, opossums need more food to maintain their body temperature. They may become more opportunistic feeders and scavenge for food, including carrion, fruits, and insects.
  3. Seeking Shelter: Opossums are known for their adaptability and may take shelter in various locations during winter. This can include dens, burrows, hollow logs, or any available shelter that provides protection from the cold.
  4. Solitary Behavior: Opossums are generally solitary animals, and this behavior can become more pronounced in winter. They may avoid encounters with other opossums except during the breeding season.
  5. Thermoregulation: Opossums are not well-suited to extreme cold, so they employ strategies for thermoregulation. This can involve curling into a tight ball to conserve heat or seeking warmth in sheltered areas.
  6. Seeking Warmer Climates: In regions with harsh winters, some opossums may migrate or move to more temperate areas in search of milder climates. However, this behavior is not observed in all populations.
  7. Decreased Reproductive Activity: Opossums typically have a breeding season in late winter or early spring. During the winter months, their reproductive activity decreases.

If you see an opossum, don’t be too hard on them; they are just trying to survive a very difficult time of the year.

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

The Virginia Opossum: History, Habits, and Influence on People and Ecosystems” by Barbara D. Beck.

Opossums by Anita Yasuda.

The Opossum: Its Amazing Story” by William J. Krause.

Opossums by Kate Riggs.