Perhaps the most intriguing characteristic is the opossum’s ability to play dead. When confronted by danger, opossums can either make a run for it, climb a tree, or feign death. They can growl, belch, bare its teeth, urinate, and defecate. When all else fails, they “play possum” and act as if they’re dead. The opossum sinks to the ground while its eyes glaze over, bares its teeth, and lolls its tongue to the side, successfully simulating death. No amount of prodding, poking, or shaking will revive the opossum from its catatonic state. The opossum is not pretending! The animal has no control over this — it is involuntary!
When in this state, opossums sometimes produce foul-smelling fluids from anal glands. The smell is often described as corpse-like! It really does appear as if the opossum is dead. Its teeth are visible, as if in a death grimace. Opossums create such a convincing portrayal of death, including a putrid odor, that dogs and other predators will abandon them for livelier prey, as most predators will not eat carrion— and may leave the opossum alone.