Opossums may be ugly, but what they lack in grace and beauty, they make up for with their abilities to reproduce and with their acting skills, which are remarkable.
Well, their acting skills are remarkable but limited. They do a superb death scene.
Should danger threaten, an opossum really does “play possum.”
It wilts to the ground or goes limp, falling over on its side, eyes unfocused, mouth agape with tongue hanging from between rows of fifty pointy little teeth. Copious drool.
Totally inert, the possum looks, to use the lyrics from The Wizard of Oz, "not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead."
Naturally, no predator is going to bother with a meal that appears to have been dead for at least a month, so the opossum’s life is saved.
Aha!, you say. They must be smarter than they look if they can save their lives by acting.
This little performance is more like acute stage fright.
The frightened opossum appears to die, but it actually goes into a catatonic state. It may remain comatose for between 40 minutes and three hours.
Playing possum is of great survival value, but it’s not inspired acting.
The critter is scared stiff.