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Dutchess_III's avatar

Why do 'possums "play 'possum"?

Asked by Dutchess_III (25575 points ) June 4th, 2011

Have you ever seen ‘possum teeth up close? They’re like boar tusks only curving down. I mean, dangerous.They can kill anything they want to!

We’ve been primitive camping all week. One night after dark I needed to use the loo, so I went behind the truck, squatted down and OMG!!!… there was a “dead” ‘possum not 3 inches from my bare feet! They’re really good at being dead, you know? They lay half curled, with their mouths curled back which shows their enormous teeth. They almost look like they’re rotting. I jumped up, ran to Rick yelling. He grabbed a shovel and we went back to get him, and he was GONE! I suddenly realized my German Shepherd had dragged the damn thing out from behind the truck and was dragging it around….and it just stayed “dead.” I don’t understand why. We took a long, good luck at its teeth…. My dog, as tough as she is, would have been no match for the critter had he gotten pissed.

Rick scooped him up with the shovel and tossed him in the lake. It’s really hard to play dead when you get tossed in the lake, poor thing, but he tried for a while. Just his head was sticking up and he wasn’t moving. Then he swam away.

Why don’t they attack?

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16 Answers

FutureMemory's avatar

It is strange to encounter one doing its thing, isn’t it?

One time I smacked one with a little broom multiple times but it refused to leave my back porch – pretty sure it was growling at me though. It just stood there facing the other way. Weird.

Meego's avatar

I hate possums. I hate rats and possums look like overgrown rats :/
this might have your answer

But I’m lol at how it goes into being kind to dispose of them when they play dead. :/

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Meego Interesting…I wonder what they DO with them big honkin’ teeth then?

Meego's avatar

@Dutchess_III
I’m lolling again :) All I can find is that they have 50! teeth but I don’t know why. I also found on wiki under description
a picture of a dog and a “dead” possum <- why I’m lol, I’m sure you can relate.
The baby possum is kinda cute though.
NatGeo says:

Opossums are scavengers, and they often visit human homes or settlements to raid garbage cans, dumpsters, and other containers. They are attracted to carrion and can often be spotted near roadkill. Opossums also eat grass, nuts, and fruit. They will hunt mice, birds, insects, worms, snakes, and even chickens.
That prolly why they need those fangs for.
I still don’t like them much :/

incendiary_dan's avatar

Sharp teeth are good for taking chunks of carrion off fast before the bigger predator gets back.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Who needs fangs to eat bugs and worms? Or chickens, even, for that matter!

I don’t like them either but….I think that’s just racism working!

@incendiary_dan I don’t know….seems to me regular carnivore teeth would get bigger bites. I don’t see that the fangs are opposed by appropriately sized teeth that will allow it to chomp and tear hunks that been…..from what I’m seeing, it would just be spearing. mostly.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I take it back Dan….

syz's avatar

As an animal that has to be able to obtain food to survive, it’s always a better option to avoid a fight whenever possible. Yes, they have some pretty serious dentition, but actually getting into a fight creates the possibility of sustaining a life threatening injury (even an injury that doesn’t kill directly can affect the ability to hunt for food, resulting in starvation). And believe me, if the playing dead doesn’t work, they will eventually resort to violence.

jonsblond's avatar

You definitely won’t like them after I tell you this story, @Dutchess_III. A possum was found inside a dead cow at the ranch my husband works at. The possum was alive. I guess it found its way in through the cow’s asshole butthole. true story

I’ve come across two possums in my lifetime. Each just stood there and hissed at me, showing their fangs. I was the one to run away.

MilkyWay's avatar

What is it with Fluther and butt-holes today? 0_o

incendiary_dan's avatar

@jonsblond Did it eat through the anus, or just crawl in? I’ve heard of scavengers eating out the anus of larger animals to get to the organs.

King_Pariah's avatar

Playing dead in nature is one of the best ways to get predators to leave you alone, i guess it may be because the predator wants fresh meat. However if not left alone, the opossum will either run or fight

Also, despite the size of their teeth and themselves, don’t underestimate your dog. I have a dog which is definitely smaller than the average German shepherd and has killed 5 opossums (well, technically 4 since the first one it just broke it’s back and left it on my doorstep as a present, the rest it broke their necks).

MissAnthrope's avatar

Playing dead in nature is one of the best ways to get predators to leave you alone…

This is true. The reasoning behind it is probably more along the lines of many predators being visually stimulated into attacking. This is the reason you are instructed not to run when you encounter a grizzly or a puma, for example. Playing dead gives the attacker time to get bored (i.e. the prey drive is calmed) and hopefully wander off. I can’t imagine it always works, but it must be successful a good amount of the time, or the behavior would have been selected out long ago.

Fun fact: Opossums are the only marsupial native to North America. :)

incendiary_dan's avatar

It just occured to me that possums also tend to smell pretty bad. Probably helps convince others that they’re dead.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I can’t believe you turned one of MY questions into a discussion on assholes buttholes!

@incendiary_dan yeah….they just flat look like they’ve been dead for a few days!

I just feel kind of bad because…well, I’ve been so totally “racist” against them just because of how they looks…and it was totally uncalled for…

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