Opossums are known for their instinctive ability to play dead when threatened. This unique reaction is called thanatosis, and it’s a natural defense mechanism — it’s usually effective in warding off predators when hissing and growling fail.

It’s easy to get confused between an opossum that acts dead and one that really is. You shouldn’t touch it either way, but here are a few ways to tell what you’re dealing with.

What Does an Opossum Playing Dead Look Like?

At a glance, there’s no distinction between a dead opossum and one that’s experiencing thanatosis. An opossum that’s playing dead will typically lie on its side with its eyes closed. Its breathing will get shallow and may even appear to stop completely.

While they don’t spray like skunks, opossums smell when they play dead. Sometimes, the opossum will loll its tongue and drool, even excreting waste to exaggerate its catatonic-like state. These signs will usually convince a predator that the opossum is dead, and it will lose interest.

How Long Can Opossums Play Dead?

When an opossum plays dead, its bodily functions slow down to a near-paralytic condition that can last for hours after the threat has gone. If you have patience, you can observe it for movement. An opossum can only be confirmed dead after being in a catatonic state for a few hours.

What to Do if You Encounter an Opossum

If you come across an opossum and you’re unsure of whether it’s playing dead or it really is, you should assume that it’s in a comatose state and leave it alone. This way, you won’t prolong the thanatosis process, allowing the animal to recover and regain its functioning naturally.

If you’ve spent enough time observing the opossum for signs of life and are confident that it’s dead, you can have it removed if it’s on your premises. Professional removal is best, even for live opossums — they can carry diseases that are harmful to humans and pets.

Leave Opossums to Urban Jungle Wildlife Removal

Whether an opossum plays dead or is dead, it’s best to avoid prodding it. Be safe rather than sorry with professional wildlife removal services. Urban Jungle is your go-to for opossum removal, and we’ll take steps to ensure they stay away. Call us today or reach out online to get started!