Can Opossums Run Fast?

For humans, the common thought about what happens during intense moments usually involves a flight or fight response. Humans either stay and fight or run in flight. It is natural for humans to do this, but this isn’t the only reaction for all types of animals. For opossums, or possums, as they are commonly called in the United States, there is no ability to choose between flight or fight. Instead, they play dead.

Playing Dead

When playing dead, an possum’s brain short circuits. It seizures and falls to the ground stiff and seemingly dead. To top it off, they will automatically stare blankly and stick their tongues out. 

When opossums pretend to be dead, they will immediately start to emit an awful order from their mouths and anal glands. When a predator gets closer, the smell and look of the opossum tends to make it decide to seek dinner elsewhere. Instead of predator deaths, the most common cause of death for possums is human interaction. This includes cars, traps, poison, and shootings.

Can Opossums Run Away?

It depends. The playing dead reaction is involuntary in possums. This means that they can’t control when they react this way. If their mind decides to go into shock, their body can’t stop the process. They just need to wait it out and hope for the best. However, their brains only react in such a way when the possum is faced with immense fear. If the possum isn’t faced with immense and immediate fear, then they may not react in the same way. So, if they aren’t faced with fear, possums can run away to get to safety.

Often, opossums are disturbed in the evenings or early mornings. Because they are nocturnal, possums leave the safety of their dens to hunt for berries, small animals, trash, or anything else edible, as soon as the sun goes down. The shape of their bodies doesn’t allow for a high-speed fleeing moment. They are not cheetahs. They are more akin to a raccoon or cat. Their back legs are wide, making for a run that is more of a waddle.

While cats can run up to 30 miles per hour, mice can run up to 8 mph, squirrels up to 12 mph, possums can run up to 8 mph. This is going to look a little slow, due to the waddle that happens when they run. In comparison, the cheetah runs with a top speed of 75 mph, which for a 6-foot human would feel like running 100 mph.

Affecting Speed

An opossum’s speed is affected by a majority of conditions. This could be affected by age, size, and what season it is. Due to their lack of insulation, possums are highly susceptible to frostbite. Furthermore, mother possums carry their litter on their back. It isn’t easy carrying a pack of upset kids on your back while running away from a predator.