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Playing Dead

Updated on July 16, 2009

An Opossum

These cats ignore the opossum


I was sitting in the kitchen the other night, when I heard a clatter on the back porch. I opened the door and there, with its nose buried in the cat dish, was a small opossum. He looked up at me somewhat startled-not that you can really startle an opossum-and then he ambled across the porch and clambered down the stairs into the night. He ambled as opposed to shuffled, because opossums usually shuffle where ever they go, but when they are frightened they break briefly into ambles.

This opossum was one of five that had first visited the kitty larder last summer on its mother's back. She had stumbled on a goldmine: a magical dish that was almost always full of food. I assumed that she must have made some kind of deal with the cat because she visited quite often and the cat never seemed to object. It could have been that the cat thought that food from a can was more convenient than food in a hide, especially a hide equipped with teeth. Cats aren't stupid. Why go after a meal that bites back? Anyway, now the whole family comes one at a time to visit the cat dish. Clambering up the steps, shuffling along the porch with that mouth-half-open-drooling look to the cat dish, to enjoy their repast.

I've been studying on them and wondering if they are as dumb as they look. Judging by their membership in the local road kill club I'd have to guess their IQ is somewhat wanting. About the only thing I knew about opossums was that they played dead if they got scared. This has led to an unfair characterization that the opossum is a coward. Well, let me tell you what I discovered. It is not easy to get an opossum to play dead. Growing up I always assumed that if you walked up to one-which is something you can do on account of their lethargic nature-and yelled BOO! They would conveniently roll over, clutch a daisy to their chest, and stick their feet in the air. One night I heard the mother taking dinner out on the porch. I snuck to the door and flung it open shouting BOO! She hunched up and showed a rather impressive set of teeth. She then hissed like a bad tire valve and made a feint toward me. At no time did she even hint at playing dead. I stumbled backwards at her sudden show of defense and stumbled over the doorsill, sprawling on the kitchen floor. I quickly got up, ambled over and shut the door. She quietly returned to feeding her brood.

Her youngsters are not quite as fearsome. But that may be due to their age, or lack of kids to defend. At any rate, I got a slight clue that night as to the arrangements she'd made with the cat concerning her provisions. I thought that the cat had been catching more mice lately. There also has been a rumor going around the opossum community that humans play dead when frightened.


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    • abcd1111 profile image


      10 years ago from Glen Ellyn, IL (Chicago suburb)

      Fun story. Possums sure can look evil. Glad you survived "scaring" one.


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