Residents of upstate New York have certainly noticed an increase in the amount of opossums inhabiting the region. Opossums do not hibernate during the winter, therefore, the cold upstate New York climate is not ideal for these animals. In order to survive the region’s harsh winters, opossums struggle to find warm shelter. It is for this reason that opossums are often found dwelling in or near homes in areas like garages, sheds, and underneath patios and in crawl spaces. Even when opossums do secure warm shelter for the winter, they must still risk their lives searching for food, which is hard to come by in frosty landscapes. Opossums that are captured in New York often show signs of frostbite, indicating that they have survived the winter season before. The harsh northeastern winter climate also shortens opossum lifespans, as opossums in the region usually live to be around 2 years of age. Opossums dwelling in warmer climates live for a longer period of time. Although opossums have become problematic nuisance pests that sometimes damage property in upstate New York, the marsupials are relatively new to the state.
Prior to 1900, opossums were rarely spotted within the state of New York, but their population within the state has been gradually growing since the early 20th century. Most opossum species live within tropical locations where the climate is hot and humid, but one opossum species, the Virginia opossum, is the only species that is capable of surviving cold winters. This is due to the unique insulating layer of fat that exists below the Virginia opossum’s skin. In fact, this physical feature allowed the Virginia opossum to migrate into North America from its native South America. While many opossums in upstate New York die from hypothermia during the winter season, most fatalities occur as a result of hunting, trapping and being hit by vehicles. One study showed that 35 percent of all opossums in New England that had been outfitted with tracking devices died after being struck by vehicles. The increase in opossum numbers in New York will likely plateau at some point due to the state’s relatively cold winter climate.
Have you ever struck an opossum with your car or truck? Do you hunt opossums?