Playing dead is a survival strategy performed by hundreds of different species, including lemurs, lizards, ants and sharks. But why do animals do this? This bizarre behaviour, know as tonic immobility (TI) or catatonia can be used as a defence or offence.
Since most predators avoid dead or rotting animals displaying catatonia is usually enough to keep predators from killing and eating them. An opossum for example, assumes an odd body posture, sticks out its tongue, drools and oozes a foul smelling liquid from its anal gland. Disgusted, the predator usually decides it’s not the meal it was looking for and leaves. After a few minutes the opossum jumps up and heads on its way.
Animals also play dead in order to catch prey. There is a species of beetle that pretends to be dead and is carried away by ants to their ant nest. Once inside, the beetle springs back to life and feeds on the ant larvae.
In all of my years dealing with them, I've never been attacked, confronted or even approached by one. Nine times out of 10 they open their mouth, fall on their side and fake dead.
This opossum was found in a homeowners garage. We typically don’t receive many calls about opossums, mainly because they are constantly on the move. They tend not to stay in one location long enough to be a disturbance.
Some fun facts:
Size: 35–95 cm long without the tail
Weight: Up to about 6 kg
Distinctive look: Naked, prehensile tail
Best known for: "Playing possum" — feigning death as a defense mechanism
Range: Central America to the southern edges of Ontario and B.C.
Life span: About two years in the wild