Unraveling The Mystery Of Why Possums Play Dead

Unraveling The Mystery Of Why Possums Play Dead

Possums are incredibly fascinating animals that live all around Australia. When threatened, one of their most unique and well-known behaviours is to “play dead,” or, more precisely, pretend to be dead. Their extraordinary defence system has given them the remark “opossums” and attracted the interest of many.

You’ve been duped by this annoying little animal if you’ve seen a dead possum in your garden or backyard only to discover it has vanished later. You’ve come to the right page if this is your first time reading about possum-dead actions. This blog will give you a better understanding of the fascinating world of possums and investigate the causes of their dramatic play-dead behaviour.

Why do possums play dead?

Survival Strategy

Possums’ primary purpose in playing dead is to deter predators. When confronted by a potential threat, possums often go limp, fall to their sides, and even stick out their tongues, creating a ghastly image of a deceased animal. This act serves to confuse and deter predators, making them less inclined to attack what appears to be a lifeless meal. While other animals may rely on speed, strength, or camouflage to evade danger, possums have evolved this unique and passive survival strategy.

Involuntary physiological reaction

Playing dead for possums is not a conscious choice but rather an involuntary physiological response. When they sense a threat, their body enters a state of shock, and their heart rate drops significantly. This reaction is similar to the “freeze” response observed in some prey animals, and it often results in the predator losing interest and moving on in search of easier prey.

A Last Resort

Possums do not play dead at the drop of a hat. Instead, they reserve this extreme defence mechanism for life-or-death situations. When all other escape options have been exhausted, they resort to playing dead as a final attempt to survive. This last-resort tactic has likely evolved over millions of years, helping possums endure in a world filled with predators.

Enhanced Survival Rates

The “playing possum” strategy has proven to be remarkably effective. Studies have shown that possums have a higher survival rate when they employ this behaviour than when they attempt to escape or fight. By convincing a predator that they are not worth the effort, possums increase their chances of living to see another day.

Predators Duped by the Act

Many predators, including foxes, owls, and large birds of prey, are known to be duped by the possum’s act of playing dead. This deception can be so convincing that the predator may abandon the possum, believing it to be already dead or diseased. Even some humans are fooled by this display and may leave a seemingly lifeless possum alone.

Limitations and risks of possums playing dead

While playing dead is an effective defence strategy, it’s not without its limitations and risks. Some predators, such as domestic dogs and coyotes, are less easily fooled and may still attack a possum even when it’s playing dead. Additionally, the possum’s slowed heart rate and shallow breathing during this state could make it more vulnerable to other dangers, such as exposure to the elements or getting hit by a passing vehicle.

How do you deal with possums?

Dealing with a dead possum can be unpleasant but is sometimes necessary for hygiene and safety reasons. Here are the steps to handle a deceased possum properly:

Ensure Safety

Put on disposable gloves to protect yourself from potential diseases or parasites that the possum might carry. Additionally, make sure you use apt tools. You may need a shovel or a similar tool to handle the possum safely.

Check local regulations

Depending on your location, there may be specific guidelines or regulations regarding the removal of dead wildlife. Be sure to check with your local authorities to ensure you comply.

Choose the right location

Do not touch the dead possum with your bare hands. If the possum is on your property, consider where you want to dispose of it. Ideally, choose a spot away from your home, garden, or any areas frequented by pets or children.

Use a plastic bag

Carefully place the possum in a sturdy plastic bag. You can use a shovel or other tool to lift the possum into the bag. Seal the bag securely to prevent any leakage or odour.

Disposal Options

In some areas, you can dispose of small dead animals like possums in your regular trash collection. Double-bagging the possum can help contain any odours. And if you’re uncomfortable handling the possum yourself or if it’s a larger animal, you can contact your local animal control or wildlife services for assistance.

Clean and disinfect

After handling the possum and disposing of it, remove your gloves carefully and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. Clean any tools or surfaces that came into contact with the possum with a disinfectant to minimize the risk of disease transmission.

Prevent future incidents

Identify the cause: If you frequently encounter dead possums on your property, try to determine the cause. This could include addressing any safety hazards, securing garbage bins, or assessing if there’s an underlying issue attracting possums to your area.

If you have concerns about the presence of possums or other wildlife in your area, you may want to consult with local wildlife authorities or pest control professionals like Instant Possum Removal for assistance in managing such situations safely and effectively. They are armed with tools and are well-versed in the regulations associated with disposing of dead animals. In consequence, they are in a better position to do the job.


Possums’ ability to play dead is a remarkable adaptation that has allowed them to survive in a world full of predators. This unique behaviour, though involuntary, serves as an effective last-resort defence mechanism that often convinces predators to seek easier prey.

While it may seem eerie and bizarre to us, it’s a survival strategy that has stood the test of time for these resilient marsupials. So, the next time you come across a “dead” possum on the road or in your backyard, remember that it might just be pulling off one of the most convincing acts in the animal kingdom, all in the name of survival. And if it is genuinely dead, connect with professional possum management experts like Instant Possum Removal.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog post has been diligently fact-checked and written by Nicholas Willmore, an esteemed Australian expert in the pest control industry

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