Why Do Possums Play Dead?

Why Do Possums Play Dead?

Those who face apparently dead possums should never try to handle the pests. Though they will look lifeless, possums are completely alert playing dead and may attack, bite or scratch if taken hold of. It may spread dangerous diseases like rabies, tuberculosis and spotted fever. 

The suitable way to get rid of possums is to contact wildlife or possum removal professionals. But why do they play dead as a mechanism? Is it a type of fear reaction? Is there any other mechanism for protecting themselves against predators? Can you decide between dead and playing dead from a distance? Let’s read more about this.

Why Do Possums Act Like Dead?

Every animal has a different defence mechanism, and the odd one is the possum. They pretend to be dead to ignore conflict with predators. It is a normal thing that possums do when they feel trapped.

Most of us do not know that this animal is actually not playing dead. The unplanned response to a demanding situation causes the possum to go into shock. They will have no control over their reaction. When it faces a predator it will faint or drop to the ground. People assume it is playing dead.

They can stay in the same state from 40 min to 4 hours while looking blankly ahead or with their eyes, half closed. If they are overstressed then they might stay in that state for extended periods.

How Do The Possums Look When They Play Dead?

While in such a state, a possum’s body becomes uniform. The front feet form onto balls, and they may also even drool from their mouth. It will look as if the stiffening of the joints and muscles has already started.

Their eyes will turn glassy like a creature without a sign of life. A predator will snuffle at it, flip its body or push it over the ground. A possum will not move or get up in any condition.

While playing dead the smell of the possum will also become like dead. They release a liquid from glands located near the tail. This mucus will give off a bad odour. This combination of being dead with that bad odour has helped unnumbered possums escape capture and deadly attacks from predators.

Is This Mechanism Convincing?

It is not necessary that the first response after facing any danger will be ‘playing possum’. Frightened possums growl noisy and deeply. They will continue to increase the pitch of these sounds as the predator approaches. They will also use their sharp teeth to bite. Baby possums do not adapt well to playing dead. Their brains are not well developed for this type of response. Baby possums fail to play dead, falling prey to predators.

Which Animals Eat Possums?

Possums are much smarter than that of a dog, but this doesn’t mean that they do not have predators. There are even some small animals that can outsmart possums. Owls, for instance, are one of the natural predators of possums. Coyotes, foxes, large dogs, bobcats and even house pets are also a danger to possums. They also end up as roadkill to a passing car or die from disease as it is to any of their predators. One of the most dangerous predators of the possum is humans. The methods of poisoning, and trapping used by humans do not give possums a stand to chance.

Far from adults, young possums are most likely to fall prey to capable predators such as eagles and falcons. In Australia, a large number of birds of prey seldom prey on these.

Are Possums Capable Of Controlling Their Playing-Dead Actions?

The expression playing dead defines the lying down position of a possum to ignore unsafe conditions. Possums actually are unable to control playing dead. This response is stimulated when they are stalked or cornered by any predator. Some of the known biologists describe this as going into complete shock or falling into a temporary coma.


Intriguing and adaptive, the possum’s play dead behaviour is a remarkable survival strategy. When confronted by danger, these creatures masterfully feign death, confounding predators and buying precious moments to escape. This astonishing evolutionary adaptation showcases nature’s endless marvels and the lengths to which species evolve to ensure their survival. If you require assistance with possum removal for your property, please reach out to the CBD Possum Removal experts today and receive a complimentary quote.

Reliable Possum Removal 0488 851 508