The cold of winter presents many challenges for both humans and animals. Humans find shelter in homes and other buildings, while animals seek dens or burrows to stay warm. In many cases, these shelters provide food as well.
Kenya Nixon has a soft spot for wildlife, and she was not surprised when a wild possum named Hank moved into her garage last winter. Possums are opportunistic omnivores, and they’ll eat whatever they can find, including insects, small animals, cat or dog food, berries, nuts, and even carrion.
Possums are primarily active at night, and they have the ability to see in the dark thanks to their night vision. Their prehensile tails help them climb trees and grab onto branches, but they don’t use their tails to sleep. They prefer to crouch on their side or stomach in their favorite den location.
Most possums will have several den locations during the summer, but as winter approaches they’ll usually stick with one or two of them. They’ll keep these sites insulated with leaves, grass, or woodpiles. To preserve their energy, possums will enter a state of torpor during the winter. During this low-energy state, the body temperature drops and the metabolism slows considerably.
The pygmy possum, the mountain possum, and some other species will also hibernate during the winter. They’ll take in water and air to maintain a stable internal temperature, but they’ll awake periodically to feed on food and drink. The pygmy possum, for example, can stay in hibernation for up to seven months at a time.