Opossums don’t actually play dead when they’re threatened. Instead, they involuntarily enter a catatonic state. Possums, as they are commonly called, are more likely to run the other way, bare their teeth and growl in dangerous situations. While their bravado is admirable, it’s not very difficult for most predators to overpower them.
When you see the marsupial “playing possum” it’s because it’s been attacked or caught unaware. If it feels threatened by a dog, fox, owl or other animal, it drops to the ground and either closes its eyes or stares off into space. Its body goes limp, its breathing appears to stop, it discharges its bowels, its tongue sticks out, and it drools. And if you poke it, the possum will not respond. By all indications, it appears to be dead.
This defense mechanism is intended to confuse its attacker and allow the possum to escape. Many people believe it’s a good act, but according to scientists the possum is actually in tonic immobility or thanatosis, and its body enters a catatonic state in response to fear. “Playing possum” isn’t an act; it’s an involuntary reaction to a threat.
The animal doesn’t feel any pain and has no reflexes when this occurs. It even stops blinking its eyes. A possum won’t respond no matter what a predator does, even if swats, bites or breaks the possum’s bones.
Many wild animals are turned off by dead prey, an evolutionary tactic that likely keeps carnivores from consuming diseased food. Most predators will give up on prey that plays possum.
It can take the marsupial anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to become mobile again. While they can survive these types of encounters, they can still be injured. Scientists have found many possums in the wild wandering around with healed wounds and fractures, likely from being attacked.
In addition to seemingly feigning death, possums have other remarkable traits. They have prehensile tails to climb tree branches, and they’re immune to pit viper venom. Females give birth to up to 18 babies at once just 12 to 14 days after conception.
They’re also very adaptable. The Virginia possum, for example, has expanded its territory to the north, which has a much colder climate. In some northern states, the animals survive frostbite on their tails and ears when they appear in the spring. They’re battered but resilient. And here’s a fun fact: opossum means “white dog” in the Native American Algonquian language.
By Noelle Talmon, contributor for Ripleys.com
Quite an amazing animal in many ways. Ugly as Hell, but, actually a very interesting animal.
No. They’re cute.
I’m pretty sure there is a fact here that is in correct it’s the carnivores won’t eat dead prey fact it’s actually the smell of a rotten animal that turns them off thus the reason the possum produces a musk of sorts when they go into this catatonic state as they also void themselves this too can be a deterrent to predators but not all predators will fall for this
This actually correct. I have 2 as pets.
Kassie I think they know what they’re talking about, as a longtime reptile owner, most of my snakes wouldn’t eat mice if they stayed still. They can even sense the body heat but they still wouldn’t eat them because they thought they were dead
O’possum. Not a possum.
Opossum, no hyphen. If you’re going to correct people get it right, lol.
Heed your own advice. They used no hyphen.
I absalutly HATE possoms
1. they are not cute
2. they harrase my cats and
3. they EAT MY CHICKENS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think that this is all a VERY good reason not to like these creatures. though this web site is very helpful thank you.
How can one say they hate why don’t you learn that all animal of something has feeling I found baby possum and I learn more of a animal so you can’t hate what you not understand they are so precious and misunderstood so before you go judging something give it a chance love come of this then you can imagine I learn and there not nasty or related to rats so I think there adorable
They are absolutely harmless cats stay away from them and vice versa.
We have a small cattle/grain farm along with 22 free range chickens, opossums have never killed a single chicken!
All our chicken kills come from owls and racoons. In fact cats have a weird bond with opossum, it is not uncommon to see a cat and opossum eating out of the same food bowl.
You have misjudged the opossum because you haven’t educated yourself about them, do so and you will be pleasantly surprised ?
Possums aren’t in the US, only opossums.
Wrong. The nickname “possum” comes from the indigenous American name “opossum”, and both are commonly used in the US to refer to the Virginia opossum. The marsupials down under were named after the American animal.
The baby opossum are cute
I love them…they cleanup the spilled cat food outside and lick the dishes clean! So no flies collect. I feel they are a very misunderstood animal. I feel cute and helpful little fellows. We’re not all pretty either!
Our Siamese cat would eat from the same dish, at the same time, as a baby opossum
Ugly, and disgusting, and nothing but a nuisance. They knock over my trash cans and spread my trash all over my front yard, they tear up my garden and dig holes under my shed, and they freak me out when I see their giant rat shaped from creeping around when I’m outside at night. I just wish I lived in an area where I could shoot them Everytime I see them. Ugly, nasty, and good for NOTHING. hope the go extinct.