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Meet the opossum – a very cute, slightly more timid version of its well known cousin ‘the possum’. The opossum has an incredible tactic when faced with a threat; it appears to ‘play dead’ leaving its prey very confused and often giving up.

The opossum actually has no control over ending up knocked out – it’s a biological response to danger that causes the creature to enter a catatonic state and it is unable to feel anything. During the process it falls to the ground, excretes whatever is left in its bowels and sticks out its drooling tongue. It can take the passed out marsupial up to several hours to regain consciousness and it may have to deal with certain injuries, as prey will usually give it a good prod and kick before moving on to the next target.

At first glance you might think this would have put opossums at an evolutionary disadvantage, but in actual fact it’s quite the opposite. Predatory animals are put off by already dead animals because of the risk of their not-so-fresh cadaver being diseased and hosting all sorts of unappealing parasites. And this has helped the opossum through the years.

Delving deeper into the evolutionary process of how this peculiar trait came to be will benefit any student of a biological persuasion in writing a memorable personal statement.

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