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jerry jackson
Photographed by Bette Jackson

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Source: Opossums 2

Length of Segment: 00:01:10

Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. We all know the expression, “Playing opossum”: sort-of pretending to be asleep when you're really not, a favorite kids' trick after the magic hour when they're supposed to be in bed. The expression, of course, comes from a characteristic behavior of the Virginia opossum that is often described as a ruse to make predators think its dead. When you think about it, such a trick might not do much for the opossum because some predators are glad to find a tasty meal, dead or alive. However, it does sometimes work on discouraging dogs; a dog will grab a live opossum and shake it and when the opossum goes limp, it often drops it and leaves. When faced with an adversary, a Virginia opossum opens its mouth, bares its 50 teeth in a most threatening show, and drools excessively, enough to scare most humans. The Virginia opossum’s movements are slow and mostly bluff. If a viciousness bluff doesn't work, however, the opossum’s nervous system seems to become overloaded and it faints dead-away. It may be a behavior that saves the opossum's life, but there's no play to it.

'With the Wild Things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson.

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