“Playing Possum”


Source: http://iceage.wikia.com/wiki/File:Crash_and_Eddie.jpg

Remember the two adorable and hilarious creatures from Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, Crash and Eddie? They are the twin opossum brothers who appeared in Ice Age 2 and spend most of the time attempting dangerous stunts such as buggy jumping above lava pits, and being catapulted through the air by a tree.

In reality, Opossums, Didelphia Virginiana, are in fact not so adorable, and are rather unglamorous creatures. It has big, black eyes, a pale pointy face, and a hairless tail, resembling a rat. They are nocturnal creatures and the only marsupial (pouched mammal) that can be found in North America. They are also Earth’s oldest surviving mammal family, which explains the presence of the opossum characters in the Ice Age movie. It lived during the age of dinosaurs and fossil remains of these mammals have been found from a whopping 70 million years ago!

Today, opossums are known to be scavengers as they often enter human homes to raid garbage cans and dumpsters. They can eat almost anything, ranging from grass and nuts to worms, snakes and even chickens! This is rather amazing given its small size in comparison to the snakes and chickens.

Below is a video on the most famous and unique behavior of an opossum, please click on play and enjoy!


Source: http://animal.discovery.com/tv/a-list/creature-countdowns/adaptations/adaptations.html

As you can see from this really amusing video and photo above, “playing possum” refers to the opossum faking death whenever it is being threatened by potential danger possibly caused by animals such as dogs, foxes or bobcats!

During the act of “playing possum,” when the opossum senses danger, it will flop down on its side, go limp and even begin to drool. Its eyes will turn glassy and motionless, with its tongue falling out of its mouth. This will mislead the potential predator into thinking that it is already dead, so that the potential predator will lose interest in the “dead” opossum, giving the opossum a chance to escape unscathed. As you can see from the video above, the dog looked really confused at the opossum’s motionless state but walked away after awhile, thus achieving the opossum’s objective!

However, it is interesting to note that this form of behavior by the opossum is entirely involuntarily as it serves to provide a form of protection for the animal. On the other hand, this playing dead behavior also makes the opossums vulnerable. When drivers on the roads see the limp opossums in the middle of the road, they will not bother to swerve under the assumption that they are really dead.

Unfortunately, these comical animals can’t be found in Singapore. So, if you happen to go to the United States and Canada, do look out for these “dead” creatures so as to avoid potential roadkills!


“Top 10 Animal Adaptations: Creatures Countdowns: Animal Planet”  by Animal Planet. URL: http://animal.discovery.com/tv/a-list/creature-countdowns/adaptations/adaptations.html (accessed on 5 Arpil 2010).

“Opossums, Opossum Pictures, Opossum Facts” by National Geographic. URL: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/opossum.html (accessed on 5 April 2010).

2 thoughts on ““Playing Possum”

  1. Seems like a formerly adaptive behaviour to me!
    Due to rapid urbanization, the behaviour has become more of a maladaptive trait isn’t it?

  2. Yeah, opossums are supposed to be amusing and wild creatures but over the years of urbanization they are gradually being treated as pests by people which is kind of sad as they don’t appreciate their unique behavior.

    It’s still adaptive behavior since the opossum succeeded in making the dog lose interest in it!

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