Why Suddenly Going Into a Catatonic State in the Face of Danger Is Referred to as ‘Playing Possum’

Playing Possum

In a ceding Ted Ed lesson written by educator Tierney Thys and animated by John R. Dilworth, narrator Susan Zimmerman explains which animals play dead and why. Examples include possums, quail chicks, cats, sharks and even humans.

Hundreds of animals “play dead” as a survival tactic. Nicknamed “playing possum” after its star performer, feigning death is also called thanatosis. That’s from Thanatos, the ancient Greek deity of death. But most scientists call it tonic immobility, or TI. How and why TI occurs depends on the species and situation.