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18 Animals that Play Dead (A to Z List & Pictures)

praying mantis

Examples of animals that play dead include Virginia Opossum, Pygmy Grasshopper, Mallard Ducks, and European Rabbits.

Animals have a wide range of survival techniques. Some animals play dead as a way to avoid becoming prey, while others use it as a form of defense.

Animals will exhibit this behavior when they are threatened or scared and want to escape from the situation.

Examples of Animals that Play Dead

Some animals do this to avoid being eaten or attacked by predators. This is called playing possum, and it’s basically the same as faking death.

There are loads of different animals that play dead too! We’ll be looking at 18 of these, so let’s get started.

1. Antlion

Antlion
Scientific NameMyrmeleontidae
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeWisconsin
DietCarnivore

The Antlion is a type of insect that lives in dry, sandy areas. They are sometimes called ‘Doodlebugs’ because they leave lines behind them when moving around the sand looking for food.

When an ant or other small creature comes close to it by accident, the antlion will attack with its strong jaws.

However, sometimes the antlion will pretend to be dead when it has been spotted by a predator like an eagle or snake. Its wings close up and its body goes limp so that predators think they have killed it.

Researchers have seen the antlion playing dead for more than 61 minutes.

2. Black Widows

black widow
Scientific NameLatrodectus
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeThe United States, southern Europe, and Asia, Australia, Africa
DietCarnivore

Black widows are the most poisonous spiders in North America. They’re extremely venomous, but they don’t always bite people when threatened or provoked. Instead of fighting back, black widows play dead.

When their lives are at risk, they curl up into a ball while releasing silk from their abdomens to aid its movement. It’s a pretty smart move for this type of spider.

3. Blue Jays

blue jay
Scientific NameCyanocitta
Type of AnimalBird
Rangesouthern Canada
DietOmnivore

The blue jay is a passerine bird, which means it’s in the order of perching birds. They are also well known for their bright blue feathers and loud calls that sound like “chew-ore”.

Blue jays live in North America, where they eat fruit, insects, and seeds. When threatened by predators such as cats and hawks, they will play dead. This is where its name comes from: it actually plays possum.

4. Dragonflies

dragonfly
Scientific NameAnisoptera
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeWorldwide
DietCarnivore

Dragonflies are carnivorous insects, which means they only eat other living things.

Female dragonflies will frequently play dead in order to avoid mating rather than playing dead to evade predators. When an unwanted male dragonfly approaches them, the female dragonfly will fall from the sky and appear lifeless on the ground.

5. Eastern Hognose Snake

Eastern Hognose Snake
Scientific NameHeterodon platirhinos
Type of AnimalReptile
Range Eastern United States
DietCarnivore

Eastern Hognose snakes are a type of nonvenomous snake that plays dead to escape predators. They’re found in the Eastern United States and Canada, but also South America.

These snakes have been known to make funny noises while pretending they’re dead – popping their jaws open and closed! This is often enough to scare away predators.

6. European Praying Mantis

Mantis
Scientific NameMantis religiosa
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeEurope, Asia, and Africa
DietCarnivore

The European mantis is a really big insect that lives in Europe and Asia. They can grow up to four inches long, which makes them one of the biggest species found around the world.

This is another animal that plays dead to avoid cannibalism from the female after mating. When this animal feels threatened it will play dead and become motionless to avoid being eaten.

7. European Rabbits

European Rabbit
Scientific NameOryctolagus cuniculus
Type of AnimalMammal
RangeEurope (Spain and Portugal) and northwest Africa
DietHerbivore

European rabbits are one of the most common animals that play dead. Rabbits tend to be preyed upon by a lot of different predators, such as foxes and birds like hawks.

A lot of people have seen rabbits going into a trance-like state when pickup.

Stress has been linked to Trance Inducing Enz. Animals are not in a trance when they’re affected by stress, according to researchers. When rabbits feel trapped in an undesirable situation and believe they are unable to flee, they will play dead.

8. Japanese Quail

Scientific NameCoturnix japonica
Type of AnimalBird
RangeEast Asia
DietHerbivore

Japanese Quail is a type of bird that looks like an angry chicken. They have bright redheads and are sometimes kept as pets.

Japanese Quails only do this trick when they’re under threat from predators though. If you’ve ever seen one run away before, it’s the same sort of thing – but faking death means not having to run.

9. Lemon Shark

shark
Scientific NameNegaprion brevirostris
Type of AnimalMammal
RangeNew Jersey (US) to Southern Brazil
DietCarnivore

The lemon shark, one of the world’s most dangerous predators in marine habitats and that lives in the shallow waters on the east coast of the United States, also plays dead.

They remain motionless when turned on their back and have abnormal breathing and tremors.

10. Livingstoni Cichlid

Electric Yellow Cichlid
Scientific NameNimbochromis livingstonii
Type of AnimalFish
RangeLake Malawi
DietOmnivore

Some animals on this list use play-dead to avoid predators the livingstoni cichlid uses play-dead to catch their food. The livingstoni cichlid, often known as the kalingono or sleepy fish, is a semi-aggressive freshwater fish that will lay at the bottom of the waters and wait for smaller fish.

Once their prey is close enough they will attack and eat them.

11. Mallard Ducks

duck
Scientific NameAnas platyrhynchos
Type of AnimalBird
RangeNorth America and Eurasia
DietOmnivore

Mallard Ducks are common ducks that live in North America, Europe, and Asia. They usually breed near the pond and migrate during winter time to warmer weather.

When these ducks feel threatened by a predator, they will play dead. Mallard Ducks will normally stop moving and flop to the ground when caught by a predator and wait to escape.

12. Nursery Web Spiders

Scientific NamePisauridae
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeNorth America
DietCarnivore

This is another type of insect that plays dead to avoid sexual cannibalism.

Male nursery web spiders will offer females an insect as part of the mating ritual. When the female consumes the bug, the mating starts.

If the female does not eat the bug, the male spider pretends to be dead. He’ll only come back to life after she resumes feeding on the insect.

13. Pselaphid Beetles

Scientific NamePselaphinae
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeNorth America
DietHerbivore

Pselaphid Beetles are a group of beetles that have been known to play dead. These insects can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

These beetles play dead in order for ants to carry them away instead of playing dead to avoid being eaten.

When they get carried inside an ant’s nest by the ants, they “come to life” and eat the ant larvae, which are the majority of their diet.

14. Pygmy Grasshopper

Pygmy Grasshopper
Scientific NameTetrigidae
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeRainforests of the Philippines
DietOmnivore

Pygmy grasshoppers are small insects that live in dry areas. They spend most of their lives underground, and they can play dead whenever one is under threat from a predator.

They do this by freezing and spreading their legs out in all directions, which makes it almost impossible for predators to eat them.

15. Red Imported Fire Ant

fire ant
Scientific NameSolenopsis invicta
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeSouth America
DietOmnivore

The red imported fire ant is an invasive species that has spread all over the southern United States. They are very aggressive and will fight to protect their colonies by swarming together against predators.

The young fire ants that are a few days old are unable to fight or flee, so when they are under threat they will play dead as their defense.

16. Redback Spider

redback spider
Scientific NameLatrodectus hasselti
Type of AnimalInsect
RangeAustralia
DietCarnivore

Redback Spiders are found all over Australia. They’re known for their distinctive red stripe on their back, but they can also have a black or purplish coloring to them too.

Females of the species tend to be larger than males. Redback Spiders are venomous, but they will only attack when threatened.

Also, they don’t usually attack unless provoked! Redback spiders will play dead if attacked by a predator like a wasp or a bee.

17. Texas Indigo Snake

indigo snake
Scientific NameDrymarchon melanurus erebennus
Type of AnimalReptile
RangeSouth Texas
DietCarnivore

Texas Indigo Snakes are a species of the eastern indigo snake, found in North America.

They eat rodents and frogs, but they can also play dead when threatened by predators. They will coil themself up and open their mouth while playing dead to avoid being eaten.

18. Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossum
Scientific NameDidelphis virginiana
Type of AnimalMammal
Rangenorth of Mexico
DietOmnivore

When faced with danger or when it senses there is no way out of being attacked, an opossum will play dead or ‘play possum.’

It looks like its breathing has stopped and it has no pulse. It also stays limp and its mouth hangs open with the tongue lolling out of it.

While this is happening, they release a terrible smelling liquid from their anal glands which resembles something between rotten eggs and cadaverine (the chemical that gives dead bodies their smell).

This causes predators to think that opossums are dead and they often leave them alone.

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