Opossums don’t actually “play dead,” as a defense mechanism, they involuntary enter a comatose-like state of unconsciousness when under extreme fear. If there is one in your yard and you think it’s dead, give it enough time to recover just in case it is “playing dead.” It can take anywhere from a few minutes to 4 hours. Usually their ears start to wiggle when they are about to revive. If after 4 hours there is no sign of life, call animal control for disposal.
We have all heard about opossums “playing possum” or feigning death as a defense mechanism when they feel scared. The Opossum Society recommends that at first you “give the opossum the benefit of the doubt,” and leave it alone for awhile to see if it recovers. The time that it takes may vary greatly, anywhere from a few minutes to four hours, so make sure nothing disturbs the creature during this period. If alive, it will wiggle its ears at first and move along on its own. If not, then it is clearly dead. To answer your question, it may be tempting to try to check for signs of life on your own but don’t; leave that part up to the opossum itself!
Often the best way to assure yourself that an opossum is not merely “playing possum,” short of checking its pulse, is to wait. The opossum’s involuntary collapse response typically lasts between forty minutes and four hours. As long as your oppossum is in an enclosed space, you should check up on it over an extended period to see if it comes out of its coma and becomes active again – though your continued presence might cause it to play dead all over again!
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