Why do Opossums Play Dead?

The opossum stands as the only marsupial living within North America and is a very strange animal. It doesn’t go beyond the 15 pound limit. It has some odd quirks like hanging from its tail in an upside down manner. One of its oddest traits is the fact that it plays dead when not willing to deal with any kind of situation that is presenting itself. Generally, the opossum is a peaceful animal. The fact is that the animal avoids fights in the best way possible. On the ground, this animal is quite slow and is very vulnerable to different predators such as foxes, coyotes and dogs. They also fall victim to cars on the roads and road sides. When an opossum feels cornered, it may hiss, bite or growl depending on the situation at hand. The most likely thing is to faint in shock when faced with different confrontations. This is what is referred to as playing dead.

Description of Playing Dead
The playing dead thing that is common with possums is something that is involuntary. This is one response that makes a big part of the opossum as we know it. The fear of facing a confrontation leads to shock that induces a state of comatose, and can last from as little as 40 minutes and up to 4 hours at a time. During this state, the body of the opossum is usually limp. The front feet are formed into balls and even drool comes out of the mouth. It also appears as if rigor mortis has already started.

The guise of death goes very far, as decay smell is produced. From the anal glands, its body will emit mucus that is green in color so as to discourage the predators from eating it when in this state. The smell makes the predator’s think that the body is a rotting carcass. The only unfortunate thing is that the opossum gets run over by cars easily while in the comatose state. The smell doesn’t help in such a case.

The Risks Involved
The ability of the opossum to play dead has been very helpful for many opossums and has saved lives in very difficult situations. However, there are some risks that are associated with this. If the opossum goes comatose on the road, drivers may not be aware that it is not dead and they may not swerve to avoid it. They may assume that it is already dead. Opossums have also often been buried by people without the realization that the animal isn’t really dead. For this reason, there are hotline tips on handling the marsupial, whether dead or not. When you find a body, don’t handle it in a way which may cause harm or injury. Do not bury the body as a way of disposal, or throw it in a dumpster where escape is difficult or impossible once awake.

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