All About “Playing Possum”

They say that in order to win, you have to make your enemy believe he is winning. Have you ever come across a warm creature in your garden, and once you touch it, it plays dead? “The Living Dead” is a nickname for animals that use this type of mechanism. In fact, no animal has mastered the art of playing dead like the opossum.

Playing dead is a mechanism used for different occasions. In this article, we will look into how the phrase “the living dead” applies on different occasions.


As far as sayings go, “we all hide our heads in the sand to avoid something we don’t like.” That’s actually the case when it comes to ostriches. That is because ostriches bury their head in the sand as if nothing else can see the rest of their body. But the opossum does something even more unusual: it stops moving and actually pretends to be dead. In most cases, the opossum plays dead to trick other animals or the person hunting it.

In a movie set, the opossum can scoop a clean Grammy award for the best death scene. However, scientists explain that this is merely the animal’s way to protect itself against danger. When it feels threatened, its body plays dead.

How do opossums do this so effectively? Well, the stress levels that come with danger force the creature to go into shock. This shock induces a comatose state that can last from 35 minutes to four hours. While “playing dead”, the opossum’s body is limp. Additionally, its front feet form into balls, and drool runs out of its mouth.

Is It Effective?

Opossums are not good at fleeing or fighting off other animals. Thus, playing dead is not only useful but also practical. That is why opossums need reliable mechanisms to survive in the wild. On the same page, they have a peaceful personality and will not choose to engage in any fights.

Many predators prefer live prey, and would rarely go after a dead opossum. Hence, the art of mimicking death is off-putting to most predators that hunt them.


The opossum’s apparent odd behavior of playing dead may save them from predators. Unfortunately, this does not protect them from collisions with vehicles. If an opossum wanders out into the middle of the road, drivers may not see it due to its small size. Hence, many end up getting run over and dying. 

Furthermore, being hit by a vehicle is a common way in which these animals meet their Maker. Additionally, some Good Samaritans have tried burying opossums as a sign of sympathy. When buried deep in the ground, it may suffocate and die for good.

Therefore, it is wise not to handle the body in a way that will cause injury or harm to the little creature. Do not dispose of the body by burial. Lastly, placing it in a dumpster where the animal cannot escape when they wake up is not advisable.