Duck plays dead to avoid being killed by dog
Playing dead is called ‘tonic immobility’. Some duck species do it as we can see in the video. It occurs in other animals as well. The objective is the obvious one: to hope that the predator goes away because they lose interest in chasing prey as there is an innate instinct to chase fleeing prey animals. It is a defensive response.
In each occurrence it is a response to an extreme threat. The animal becomes temporarily paralysed and unresponsive.
When people become paralysed with fear, in other words they freeze in the face of an extreme threat, I think this is the stage before playing dead. It’s a version of playing dead in my book. And when humans can either run away or fight they do sometimes go into tonic immobility which is also called thanatosis.
In some animals, thanatosis is also used to make it easier for a male to mate with a female. The French biologist Georges Pasteur described it as a form of mimicry or camouflage when the animal mimics itself as in a dead state.
The animal best known for thanatosis is the Virginia oppossum which is why playing dead is sometimes called “playing possum”. It can also mean to pretend to be injured, unconscious or asleep.
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