Do Possums Hibernate in the Winter?

Do Possums Hibernate

Possums, (Didelphis virginiana) also called opossums, are marsupials native to the Americas. Unlike bears and some other mammals, possums do not truly hibernate during the winter.

They may enter a lethargic state called torpor in response to cold temperatures or limited food availability.

Possums do not fully hibernate because their body temperature does not drop as low as true hibernators. Their body temperature may drop from about 98°F to around 90°F.

During torpor, their metabolic rate decreases, they are less active and sleep more. This helps them conserve energy.

Torpor bouts may last a few hours to a couple weeks when food is very scarce. But possums do wake up and leave the den periodically.

Possums need to eat regularly and don’t have as much stored energy reserves as bears. So they cannot sustain deep hibernation.

While they may become less active in winter, possums do not sleep through the entire winter like some hibernating mammals.

Possums enter a temporary, lighter metabolic state called torpor only when needed, but they do not truly hibernate for extended periods through the winter. Their physiology and energy demands prevent deep hibernation.

Do Possums Hibernate in the Winter?

Do Possums Hibernate in the Winter
Do Possums Hibernate in the Winter

No, possums do not truly hibernate through the winter. Unlike some mammals, possums do not have the physiological capabilities to sustain deep hibernation for extended periods.

Opossums may enter a temporary state of lethargy called torpor during cold winter months or when food is scarce. During torpor, their metabolic rate decreases and they become less active and sleep more. 

But their body temperature doesn’t drop as low as true hibernators like bears, and possums still wake up periodically to leave their dens and forage for food.

The torpor bouts serve as an energy conserving mechanism but possums cannot sleep through weeks or months of winter at a time. They do not store enough body fat or have a low enough metabolism to support prolonged hibernation.

While they tend to be less active in the winter and shelter in burrows or tree cavities, possums don’t feed constantly during warmer seasons just to prepare for winter. 

They remain active year-round within their normal home territory. But their activity level does decrease in colder months even though they don’t undergo a “true” winter hibernation comparable to other mammals.

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Types of Possums

Types of Possums
Types of Possums

There are over 100 different species of possums, but some of the main types include:

Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana): The only marsupial found north of Mexico. They are found through Central America and up to southern Canada. Have a grayish coat and long, hairless tail.

Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula): Found in Australia. Have bushy tails and vary from silver-gray to black coats. Are arboreal species that live in forest areas.

Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus): Another Australian species with a whitish-gray coat and distinctive white patches over the eyes and ears. Live in eucalyptus forests.

Pygmy Possums: Group of very tiny Australian possums with species like the Little Pygmy Possum and Eastern Pygmy Possum.

Honey Possum (Tarsipes rostratus): Tiny Australian nectar-feeding possums with long snouts and tongues to reach nectar.

Cuscuses: Species found in northern Australia, New Guinea and nearby islands. Resemble koalas with round ears and thick fur.

The Virginia opossum is likely the most well-known, Australia has a very diverse range of possum species occupying various ecological niches across that continent. Different species have adapted to specialized diets and habitats.

Do Raccoons and Possums Hibernate in the Winter

No, raccoons and possums do not hibernate through the winter. Here are some key points:


  • Raccoons remain active year-round. During harsh winters, they rest for longer periods in their dens but do not enter true hibernation.
  • They live off stored body fat and caches of food they created in the fall. Raccoons may lose up to 50% of their body weight over winter.
  • On warmer winter days, they will leave the den to search for food and water sources like unfrozen streams.


  • Possums can enter short-term torpor states lasting a few days when facing extreme weather. But they do not hibernate.
  • Possums do not put on substantial fat reserves or store large amounts of winter food. This prevents them from sustaining a long hibernation.
  • They remain active all winter, though are less active compared to warmer months. They still need to regularly seek food.

Both species may significantly reduce activity levels and rest for longer periods in the winter, they do not undergo multi-week or multi-month long hibernation cycles. Their physiology and lack of sufficient stored energy prevents this, so they must periodically wake to seek additional food.

How Long Do Possums Hibernate in the Winter

Possums do not truly hibernate during the winter. Unlike some mammals, possums do not have the physiological capabilities to sustain prolonged deep hibernation through the winter months.

However, they may enter short-term torpor states that last for a few days or weeks when facing extremely cold temperatures or limited winter food availability. During torpor, their metabolism and body temperature decreases, allowing them to conserve energy.

But possums do not have enough stored body fat or spare energy to sleep through the entire winter in deep hibernation. They need to wake every few weeks to leave their dens to find food and water.

Their torpor cycles act more as temporary shutdown states to get through short periods of extreme weather or food scarcity. Possums remain generally active, though at a reduced rate, through the winter period.

So remember that:

  • Possums do not hibernate at all in the true sense of the word
  • The longest they may enter a torpor state for is probably a few weeks
  • Their physiology does not support month-long deep hibernation as seen in some mammals
  • They remain intermittently active throughout the winter months each year

They may have periods of inactivity, it is inaccurate to say possums hibernate for extended periods through the winter. Their biology simply does not support multi-month hibernation.

How to Help Opossum in Winter

  1. Provide Shelter Access: Create or provide access to a nesting box or insulated shelter the possum can use to get out of the cold. Line it with straw or leaves for insulation. Ensure the entrance doesn’t allow larger predators. Sheds, decks, or culverts may have spaces possums can access.
  2. Offer Food Sources: Supply supplemental food like high-protein cat or dog food, sliced fruits/vegetables, or nuts. Make sure the food is offered securely on a raised platform so it stays free of snow. Avoid poison bait traps that could harm possums.
  3. Provide Fresh Water: Supply fresh, unfrozen water in a shallow bowl or pan since standing water can be hard to find when temperatures drop. Replace frequently to prevent freezing over.
  4. Eliminate Hazards: Cover window wells or other holes possums can fall into and become trapped. Check under porches and steps for straggler baby possums that might need help before deep winter arrives.
  5. Preserve leaf litter: Retain natural leaf litter for nest insulation. Avoid excess clearing that eliminates shelters and wintertime food sources possums rely on.

Making some basic supplies and tools available can assist possums in meeting their basic survival needs during cold weather months when resources are scarce. This can give them a better fighting chance until warmer temperatures return.

How Cold Is Too Cold for a Possum?

Possums do not tolerate extreme cold very well. While they can survive normal winter conditions in most of their habitat range, temperatures that drop too low will start threatening their survival.

Possums begin experiencing some physiological stress once temperatures drop below around 30-40°F (-1 to 4°C). They start having to expend more energy just to thermoregulate their body temperature.

As the mercury drops below 20°F (-6°C), it becomes severely dangerous. Their body struggles to remain functional, food becomes scarce, and antifreeze leaks and other urban hazards increase. Mortality rates climb rapidly.

If temperatures plummet below 0°F (-18°C) for a sustained period, it can be deadly for possums. They do not have adapted winter insulation and will likely freeze to death or starve/dehydrate without access to shelter and food sources.

They can handle “normal” cold snaps and winter weather, bitter subzero temperatures that last for many days will exceed possums’ capacity to cope. They lack specialized adaptations present in true hibernating mammals to safely turn down their metabolism for the duration of the harsh months. Providing external support helps counter this vulnerability.

So prolonged bitter cold well below freezing is extremely dangerous for possums. Having access to escape routes, insulated nesting spots, and supplemental sustenance can however significantly improve their chances until the mercury creeps up again.

About Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan. He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning. An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.

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