Possums are wild marsupials that are usually found in backyards or gardens. They have long, slender bodies, and they are generally pretty cute when you look at them. However, possums have a bad reputation so to speak.
They are generally accused of causing damage outside the property, and people usually blame them for things such as killing their chickens or causing a disruption in their garbage cans (those are raccoons!).
The thing is, possums are generally very quiet creatures and they do not like to cause much of a nuisance. However, before we talk about possums playing dead, it’s important to understand a thing or two about their behavior.
Possums usually don’t mind cleaning up a mess that other critters, such as raccoons have made. It is one of the reasons why they are so often caught in the act. Some accuse them of killing chickens, though that rarely happens.
Most people simply blame these animals because they are just there. You have to understand that these animals are not really a threat. They do not like to stay around in one place for a longer period of time.
More importantly, these animals are generally beneficial for your space. They can eat small rodents and will get rid of tiny insects such as slugs or snails without a problem. In fact, they will also get rid of any fruit that falls off your tree as well.
In general, these are peaceful animals. They may hiss or growl when they are cornered, but as long as you maintain your distance, these animals won’t do you any harm.
One of the defining traits of possum behavior is that they like to play dead. When they notice a confrontation brewing, these animals almost instantly fall into a comatose state.
What Causes This Reaction?
This is a physiological response that is caused automatically, and the possum is unable to control it. It is generally caused due to the severe shock and the stress that the animal undergoes.
It’s not something that the possum is able to overcome immediately either: they can be in this comatose state for anywhere between a half hour to four hours! The entire body of the animal goes limp.
The teeth harden into tight balls, and the lips are drawn back. The animal even starts drooling in this state. If you want, you can easily poke the animal, pick it up, or take it with you!
Perhaps the truly fascinating thing that you should know about this bluff played by the possum is that it literally seems dead: it even smells like a dead animal.
You will notice the distinctive and pungent smell of effluvium emanating from the animal’s body.
This Is Not an Act
Many people think that these animals are “playing dead.” That is not true. These animals are not playing possum; they are actually in a comatose state.
The defense mechanism was developed over time and is designed to confuse the animal’s attacker. This gives the possum enough time to run away.
The animal is unable to blink its eyes, and it is incapable of feeling pain when it is in this state. Even if a predator bites the animal in this state, it won’t feel any pain whatsoever.
In some cases, the animal can get up within a few minutes, though those are rare. As soon as it becomes mobile again, the animal tries to run away.
However, even if the animal is able to survive this attack, there is a strong risk of injury as well. There have been countless research studies in the past that have shown wild possums roaming about with serious injuries.
Can They Play Dead as Babies?
Another thing that you need to know about these possums is that they are able to play dead even when they are babies. Again, you have to understand that this behavior is natural and it is involuntary. The possum is born with this.
They also have very prehensile tails. They use these tails to climb the tall branches and stay away from predators. Perhaps the main thing that you should know about possums is that they are completely immune to the venom of poisonous snakes such as the pit viper.
They also tend to reproduce at an astonishing rate: the female is able to give birth to a maximum of 18 babies in one go, a mere 14 days after conceiving. More importantly, these animals are able to adapt very easily to their surroundings.
Their rapid reproduction rate is perhaps the main reason why their population is still thriving. Many predators have figured out that the animal falls into a comatose state when it is cornered, thus offering them easy pickings.
They use it to their advantage as well.
It’s a Convincing Performance
Animals, as you might know, generally avoid eating dead animals when they are hungry. The manner in which the possum is able to sell its performance is through the smell that it gives off.
It literally smells as if you are looking at a corpse. When wild animals smell this, they are instantly repelled. How does the possum give off this smell?
It does so by secreting a substance from its anus. This is a highly smelly substance that is stored in a separate gland and is released when the animal is threatened.
The smell is so pungent that these animals are generally left alone in the wild. Many predators, such as foxes and bobcats, usually avoid these animals.
While baby possums, and even possums, are generally cute animals, you have to understand that they have gotten a bad reputation due to the many stories that revolve around them.
Many people think that these animals are able to transmit rabies, although that almost never happens. The rabies virus is unable to thrive in their bodies because they have a lower body temperature as compared to other animals. As a result, they are able to move around with considerable ease!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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