Possums, or opossums, are one of the most common woodland creatures in human backyards, suburbs, and even city streets. Even though humans often come in contact with these funky animals, the average person does not know much about possum habits, including sleep.
Possums are mysterious creatures that spend most of the day in their burrows. They are different from other North American mammals because they are the only marsupials native to this continent. Cartoons have also helped distort the image that possums have, leading to many myths about their behaviors and sleep patterns.
How possums sleep may not be as unusual as you think. Here is everything you need to know about their sleeping habits.
How Often Do Possums Sleep?
Even if you have possums in your neighborhood, you may not see them very often. That is because these animals sleep for about 15 hours a day—or sometimes up to three-fourths of the whole day and night!
Scientists are not sure why possums sleep so much. However, these long sleeping patterns are common among other small mammals such as bats and chipmunks. Scientists think that smaller animals sleep more because they need to spend less time hunting for food, while bigger mammals need more calories to function so they also need to eat more.
Opossums only weigh about 14 pounds at their heaviest, so they can spend most of their day snoozing without needing to go forage for food.
When Do Possums Sleep?
Possums get most of their 15 hours of sleep during the day. These creatures are nocturnal, meaning that they are mostly active at night. The day is when they need to get most of their rest.
Many people say that if you see a possum active during the day, that means it has rabies, but this is just an urban legend. Although possums prefer to sleep during the day, if something disturbs their burrow, they will venture out to investigate.
It’s also more common to see possums during the day in the winter. When the weather gets colder, it’s harder to forage for food so sometimes they do not find everything they need at night. Although it is rare for a possum to be active during the day, it’s not automatically a sign that something is wrong.
How Do Possums Stay Cozy While Sleeping?
Like most animals, possums like to find a place where they will be warm and cozy while they are sleeping. They prefer curling up in warm dens or burrows during the day. Young possums will cuddle with their mother and siblings for warmth.
Many possums native to North America like to sleep in trees because the elevated ground makes them feel safe. They will make nests in the trees or burrow into hollow trunks. Other possums make dens on the ground or in felled trees.
Whether they sleep on the ground or in the trees, possums make their burrows using twigs and leaves. They’ll line the burrow with dry leaves or even garbage stolen from humans to create an insulating layer. Sometimes, possums are feeling lazy and will just find an abandoned rodent burrow to sleep in.
Do Possums Sleep in Houses?
Sometimes, you may find a possum in your attic or crawlspace. These shy creatures like to avoid humans when they can help it. However, if a possum is having trouble finding a den of its own due to a lack of trees and woodland space, it may go into your home.
Possums can cause lots of structural damage with their sharp claws and waste. However, they are usually harmless. Call a pest removal company that will help you get rid of a possum humanely, there is no need to panic.
Do Possums Sleep While Hanging Upside-Down?
You can blame cartoons for many of the misconceptions surrounding possums and their sleeping habits. Many animated movies portray possums sleeping upside-down, using their tails to hang from a tree branch. However, in real life possums do not do this. They sleep curled up in their dens.
Possums have very strong, flexible tails, which is why many people think they can hang from them. However, their tails do not have enough muscle to support their entire body weight, especially not throughout 15 hours of sleep! If you ever see a possum hanging from a tree by its tail, that is probably a young possum that still hasn’t figured out tree climbing and is trying to save itself from a fall.
Possum tails are prehensile, meaning that they can grasp and carry things with it like a fifth limb. Instead of using it to anchor themselves in a sleeping position, possums will usually use the tail to carry their bedding material up the tree.
Cartoons are responsible for other misconceptions about possum behavior, such as playing dead. While possums do play dead, it is not as common as cartoons portray it and only young possums that have not mastered other defense mechanisms do it.
Do Possums Hibernate?
Many mammals engage in a deep dormant state called hibernation in the winter in addition to their normal sleep patterns. However, possums do not hibernate.
Possums do not have enough body fat reserves to survive weeks or even months of sleep. They have to forage for food regularly even during cold weather. That is why you may see them during the day or even coming close to humans in the winter because they are desperate for food.
Just because possums don’t hibernate doesn’t mean that they don’t lower their activity levels. They can stay in their burrows for several days during the winter, just like humans stay in their homes to avoid going outside in the cold.
Possum sleep habits are not as unusual as you may think. Instead of sleeping upside down hanging by their tails, these animals sleep in warm dens or burrows just like most small mammals. Although they mostly sleep during the day, nocturnal possums sometimes venture out in daylight to find food.