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What Does it Really Mean When Opossums “Play Dead”

The famous “play dead” is incredibly fascinating as their bodies go through a number of very deceiving changes in an instant. This action is a defense mechanism against an outside threat. Opossums have absolutely no control over this response, it is completely involuntary. This response is so intense that the opossum’s feet will curl into balls, they will drool, and some even release an odor that mimics decay. From appearance alone you could easily believe rigor mortis has already begun. This state of frozen shock can last just minutes or several hours depending on the severity of the threat. This mechanism is highly effective when confronted by predators because they are typically slow creatures and easily caught. Many predators are only interested in live prey and will poke around at the frozen opossum and then simply move on. The largest threat for an opossum in this state is actually humans. Due to the rapid urbanization of their natural habitats, oncoming cars and premature burials make up for a large portion of accidental opossum deaths.

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