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How To Tell If A Possum Is Playing Dead?

How To Tell If A Possum Is Playing Dead?

By Mildred T Koerner on May 16, 2023

If you've ever encountered a possum in the wild, chances are you've heard of their infamous trick of playing dead.

But how can you tell if they're really faking it or if they truly have passed away?

As humans with an innate desire for mastery and understanding, we want to be able to distinguish between the two scenarios when encountering these creatures.

In this article, we'll explore some key indicators that will help you determine whether a possum is just putting on an act or if it's actually gone to possum heaven.

Firstly, it's important to understand why possums play dead in the first place.

When threatened by predators such as dogs or foxes, their natural defense mechanism is to feign death.

This serves as both a distraction for their attacker and a way to protect themselves from harm.

During this state of 'playing dead,' the possum's body goes limp and its mouth may hang open while emitting foul-smelling fluids resembling death decay.

However, not all limp possums are actually playing dead - sometimes they could just be unconscious due to injury or illness.

So let's dive into some ways to differentiate between real death and pretend demise!

Understanding The Purpose Of Playing Dead

Imagine walking through your backyard when you spot a possum lying motionless on the ground.

Your first thought might be that it's dead, but upon closer inspection, you notice that its eyes are still open and it has no visible signs of injury.

Is it possible that this possum is playing dead as a survival tactic? Understanding animal behavior can help us answer this question.

Playing dead is a common defense mechanism used by many animals in the wild to avoid being attacked by predators.

When an animal feels threatened, it may go limp and appear lifeless in hopes that the predator will lose interest and move on.

This tactic works well for some animals like opossums since they have few other options for self-defense.

By understanding this natural instinct, we can better identify whether or not a possum is truly deceased or just pretending to be.

Let's explore how observing physical signs can help confirm if a possum is actually playing dead.

Observing Physical Signs

One way to determine if a possum is playing dead is by observing its behavior.

If the possum is truly playing dead, it will likely remain still and limp when approached or handled.

It may also have its eyes closed or partially closed, and its mouth may be open with the tongue hanging out.

This is because when an animal plays dead, it tries to mimic the appearance of a lifeless creature in order to deter predators.

Another important factor in identifying species is physical characteristics. Possums are small to medium-sized marsupials that typically have grayish-brown fur and long tails.

They also have sharp claws and opposable thumbs on their hind feet for gripping branches when climbing trees.

By familiarizing yourself with these physical traits, you can more easily recognize a possum and distinguish it from other animals such as raccoons or skunks.

Now that we’ve discussed how to observe physical signs and identify species, let’s move on to testing for responsiveness to confirm whether a possum is actually playing dead or not.

Testing For Responsiveness

Now, some may argue that testing for responsiveness in a possum playing dead is cruel or unnecessary.

However, it's important to remember that these creatures have developed this survival mechanism over time and rely on it to protect themselves from predators.

By checking if the possum is truly playing dead, we can ensure their safety and well-being.

To test for responsiveness in a possum, start by checking its heartbeat.

Place your hand gently on its chest and feel for any movement or rhythmic beating.

If you don't feel anything, try simulating danger by making loud noises or touching it with a stick (carefully). This should trigger a response from the possum if it's still alive.

Differentiating from actual death can be tricky, so timing responses is crucial.

Give the possum several minutes before assuming it's gone into shock rather than playing dead.

By following these steps, you can determine whether or not the possum needs help and provide appropriate care accordingly.

As you assess the environment around the possum, keep an eye out for other potential dangers such as nearby traffic or curious pets.

It's important to move quickly but carefully when transporting them to safety.

Remember to always wear gloves and avoid direct contact with wild animals whenever possible.

With patience and proper precautions, you can safely assist a possum in need while respecting its natural instincts.

Assessing The Environment

To determine if a possum is playing dead, it's important to assess the environment around you.

Look for any signs of danger or hazards that could have caused the possum to become stressed.

If there are no immediate threats present, then spotting clues on the possum itself may help identify whether it's truly playing dead.

Start by checking the possum's breathing and heartbeat. A possum in shock will typically have shallow breaths and an erratic heart rate.

Additionally, check for any physical injuries such as cuts or bruises - these can indicate trauma from an attack.

By identifying these warning signs, you'll be able to make a more informed decision about how to proceed with helping the animal.

However, if unsure about what steps to take next, seeking professional help should always be considered as an option.

Seeking Professional Help If Unsure

If you are unsure whether a possum is actually playing dead or if it is truly deceased, seeking professional help is always the best course of action.

While possums often play dead as a defense mechanism, they may also be injured or sick and in need of medical attention.

Contacting your local wildlife rehabilitation center or animal control agency can provide you with expert advice on how to handle the situation properly.

These professionals have experience dealing with various types of wild animals and can offer guidance on what steps to take next.

Remember that attempting to handle an injured or sick animal without proper training can not only harm the animal but also put yourself at risk for injury.

By seeking professional help, you not only ensure the safety of both yourself and the possum but also contribute to the preservation of our natural world by allowing these amazing creatures to receive appropriate care and treatment when needed.

Don't hesitate to reach out for assistance when dealing with any type of possum behavior that requires special attention beyond your own expertise.


In conclusion, determining whether a possum is truly playing dead requires careful observation and assessment.

Understanding the purpose of this behavior can help you recognize when it’s happening.

By observing physical signs such as stiffness or lack of breathing, testing for responsiveness through gentle prodding, and assessing the environment for possible danger, you can make an informed decision about how to proceed.

If you’re still unsure after these steps, it may be best to seek professional help from a wildlife rehabilitation center or animal control agency.

Remember that while possums are known for playing dead, there could also be underlying medical issues at play.

Like a detective investigating a crime scene, taking the time to carefully assess the situation will allow you to determine whether your possum is really “playing opossum” or if something more serious is going on.

Ultimately, being able to differentiate between the two can mean the difference between life and death - for both you and your furry friend.


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NextIs A Possum A Rodent?

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