Opossums Can’t Actually Choose When To Play Dead

Opossums are not the most beloved of wild animals. Most people consider them nothing more than giant mean rats. The trait they are most famous for is their ability to “play dead” when confronted with a predator in order to escape actual death. One would think this ability is something they can consciously choose to use or not use. However, this is actually far from the truth. They apparently have no control over this ability whatsoever.

When an opossum experiences the incredible fear of being possibly harmed by a predator, they don’t simply lay down with their eyes closed, peeking out every so often to see when said predator is gone. The intense fear they experience actually causes their bodies to seize up and flop “dead” to the ground. This comatose state can last for hours, with the opossum stuck staring blankly ahead and their tongue sticking out till the state passes. As much as people have been led to believe that this impressive defense mechanism is linked with the animal’s incredible acting skills, they have absolutely no control over what is happening to them. It is a completely involuntary reaction to the extreme stress they experience when in danger. They can’t simply wake up out of this comatose state whenever danger has passed either. They are basically stuck like that for as long as their body remains in that state. They can’t choose how long or even when their body flops into this “dead” state. This is a clever trick performed by their bodies, but is also accompanied by another involuntary action.

When an opossum goes into this comatose state, they also begin to emit a foul odor similar to that of a decaying corpse. Their body secretes this smelly substance from their anus when the comatose reaction is triggered. This putrid smell along with their “dead” state is what really drives the predators away. They don’t just look dead. They smell like they’ve been dead long enough to have started rotting, making them a meal that no self respecting fox or bobcat want to take home for dinner.

Have you ever seen an opossum “play dead” before? Did you detect the putrid smell they emit as well? Did that help to convince you they might actually be dead?


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