Why do opossums play dead?

Do opossums play dead?
You may have heard of the term ‘playing possum.’ It means pretending to be dead to avoid any threats. It also means pretending to be unconscious, injured or asleep, to lure a victim into a vulnerable state. For a long time, it was believed that opossums ‘play dead’ when they see a predator, to fool the predator. Most carnivorous animals, including the opossum's natural enemies the dog, fox, and coyote do not eat rotting corpses. This is because dead animals contain many bacteria and molds that have started growing on them, and may make the predator sick. The possum was thought to make use of this natural and fake its death, to send the predator away. However, this is not true. The opossum does not fake its death.

What does the opossum do when confronted by a predator?
When confronted by a predator, the opossum faints of shock! It is true! It is known as tonic immobility or thanatosis in the scientific world. When threatened, the opossums go into an unconscious state. Its body becomes limp and does not react to external stimuli.

Drool starts coming out of its mouth, as its mouth falls open. Its front feet curl into balls. From its anal opening, a green mucous is secreted that has a terrible odor. This fools predators into thinking that it is rotting. This state of the opossum can last from half an hour to many hours. Why does the opossum ‘play dead’?
Opossums are peaceful creatures. They are scavengers and do not hunt other animals themselves. They do not attack humans and mostly come out at night. They are also very shy, so they are rarely seen. Because they are peaceful animals and rarely confront even each other, so when they are frightened or in danger, they will faint from shock. If cornered, they may hiss, growl or bite, but most probably their genetics will kick in and put them into tonic immobility.

Does playing dead help the opossum survive?
Opossums are generally immune to most diseases. Even snake venom doesn’t kill them! So it seems like playing dead is an added benefit that would help increase their lifespan. However, this is not true. Playing dead may help an opossum to escape from a fox or a dog, but it does not help in the case of cars, which are their actual enemies. They freeze when they are on the road when a car approaches. Sadly, many people assume that they are dead and run over them.

What should I do if I encounter an opossum that looks like it’s dead?
If you encounter an opossum on the road, do NOT run over it. Pick it up gently and place it in the grass. After some time it will come out of its frozen state and get up again.

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