Photo: Gundy (Flickr)
The possum is a rather unglamorous creature. It has big, black eyes, a pale pointy face, and a hairless tail, like a rat’s. Possums aren’t finicky about their food, either: they eat fruits, vegetables, insects, reptiles, and even roadkill.
They do have a couple of unique habits, though: as North America’s only marsupial, they can carry their young in a pouch, like a kangaroo, and they can play dead.
Possums are famous for “playing dead” when threatened, but this isn’t quite accurate. They are not “playing” dead at all: the possum goes into shock when particularly stressed.
While not dead, the possum can be found lying on its side with its legs extended and is, in fact, limp and unconscious during this time, like a person who has fainted.
While playing dead discourages predators from chasing the possum, it also makes them vulnerable. When drivers see the limp possum in the road, they don’t bother to swerve, since they assume it’s already dead.
There are also accounts of people shooting the comatose possum in order to “put it out of its misery.” There is such a thing as overplaying a part.