From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1996:
Sometimes an animal’s best
defense could be his worst enemy.
Take the example of the
opossum who nearly became as dead as
he pretended to be.
I was driving down a back
street in Lorain County, Ohio, near my
home when I spotted a dead opossum
lying on his side in the center of the
road. I slowed down to avoid the carcass,
but as I passed it, something registered:
there was no blood. I stopped
for a closer look. He lay still as death,
not even breathing as near as I could
tell. Despite the lack of bloody evidence
of a crash, I figured he must
have been dead.
Then I noticed his eye move
slightly, following me. The little bugger
was playing possum.
But playing dead in a busy
highway can soon be the real thing.
“Okay, game’s over, run
away,” I said, clapping my hand next
to his head. He didn’t move. The misguided
marsupial retreated into “Can’t
you tell I’m dead?” rigidity.
Tentatively, I nudged his butt
with my boot. Nothing.
I got the message. He was so
convinced that he had to play dead that
nothing short of hurting him would
make him give up his act. I wasn’t
about to hurt him, and I knew that
opossums don’t really have a nasty bite,
so I gently pushed him off the road until
he was lying eight feet from the asphalt,
near the edge of the woods. He never
stirred during the pushing, making me
think he might not be faking after all.
I got in my car and slowly
pulled away. I drove about a quartermile,
but was nagged by the question
of whether or not he was playing possum.
Maybe he was dead and I just
imagined the eye movement.
I turned around and went
back to the spot where I left him, just
in time to see him jump up and run into
the woods like he had the devil on his
Playing possum worked