Many animals play dead—and not just to avoid getting eaten

A dice snake pretends to be dead next to a creek in Creta, Greece.
Photograph by Blickwinkel, Alamy

Snakes, invertebrates, birds, and more have evolved several reasons for feigning death…

Of all the ways animals have evolved to evade predators, feigning death might be one of the most creative—and risky.

Scientifically known as thanatosis, or tonic immobility, playing dead occurs across the animal kingdom, from birds to mammals to fish. Perhaps the most famous death faker is North America’s Virginia opossum, which opens its mouth, sticks out its tongue, empties its bowels, and excretes foul-smelling fluids to convince a predator it’s past the expiration date.

Guinea pigs and many species of rabbits pretend to have perished, as do a number of snakes, such as the Texas indigo snake. Avian imposters include Japanese quail, domestic chickens, and wild ducks. Some sharks even pretend to go belly up: If flipped on their backs and momentarily restrained, lemon sharks will go limp, displaying labored breathing and occasional tremors. (Watch a video of a mongoose playing dead.)

Dozens of invertebrates practice tonic immobility, making them among the most common—or at least most studied—species to do so.

For instance, when approached by a predator, pygmy grasshoppers in Japan will play dead by sticking out their… Read more about this article in the link below…

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