It's been a long day of school followed by soccer practice. You get home and your parents have dinner waiting on the table. You sink your teeth into a delicious hamburger and devour the rest of your meal in a matter of minutes.
After putting your dishes in the sink, you head over to the couch for a little rest and relaxation. You overhear your parents discussing the dishes in the sink. Your name pops up as a possible candidate for doing the dishes. Oh no! What can you do?
As you hear footsteps approach, you quickly close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply, hoping it'll look like you're fast asleep. "I don't think so!" says your mom. "I know you're just playing possum!" You're busted! Better get to the kitchen to clean up those dishes, so you can move on to your homework.
As you head to the kitchen, you WONDER about what your mom just said to you. What did she mean by playing possum? Do you look anything like a possum? Are there even possums where you live?
"Playing possum" is a phrase that has been around a long time. It means to pretend to be asleep or dead so as to deceive others. Its use comes from the common practice of the North American opossum (often commonly referred to as a possum), which will feign death in order to deceive threatening predators.
There are over 60 different species of opossums, the most common of which is the Virginia opossum (also known as the common opossum). These unique animals can claim to be the only marsupial found in the United States and Canada. Opossums live practically anywhere there's a source of water, food and suitable shelter, so they can be found in the woods, on farms, in the suburbs and even urban, inner-city areas.
The opossum's pouch, a trait it shares with all marsupials, comes in handy for mother opossums. When giving birth to as many as 20 babies at a time — most of which are as tiny as bees — the babies crawl into their mother's pouch, where they will grow and develop until they're able to survive on their own.
Once they're grown, opossums become scavengers that are known to eat just about anything. They often get themselves into trouble by raiding garbage cans in residential neighborhoods. A typical opossum diet can include fruit, nuts, grass, worms, snakes, insects, birds, mice, rats, chickens, and carrion (roadkill).
Opossums are great climbers and spend a lot of their time in trees. Some people think opossums hang upside down by their tails, but this is mostly a myth. Their tails do help them grip limbs when they climb, but their sharp claws and opposable thumbs are usually what they use to navigate their way through the tree tops.
Despite spending a lot of time in trees, their scavenging habits often take opossums into the paths of numerous predators, including bobcats, foxes, cats, and dogs. Even though they have the most teeth of any North American land mammal (50!), opossums will usually choose to flop on their sides and play dead to fool predators rather than fight.