Squirrels are rambunctious little animals known for their high-energy antics.
You can watch them chase one another in your backyard or even steal food from a bird feeder.
You may also notice that sometimes a squirrel will suddenly stop and remain still.
This may make you wonder if squirrels play dead to avoid detection from predators.
Here’s what you need to know about squirrels and whether they play dead or not.
Do Squirrels Play Dead?
No, squirrels do not play dead.
Instead, squirrels have a few different actions or reactions when responding to a predator in their vicinity.
The first is to flee.
If the squirrel thinks it can run or climb to safety, then it will.
Adult squirrels who are healthy are more likely to flee from a predator.
The second thing a squirrel may do in response to a predator is to lie down.
This is why some people think that squirrels play dead.
You may notice a squirrel lying flat on the ground and remaining absolutely still.
A squirrel does this when it smells or sees a predator nearby.
It’s not plying dead, however.
Instead, it’s trying to hide or camouflage itself.
By pressing itself as flat as it can, it can make it harder for the predator to see it.
The third thing that squirrels do to avoid a predator is to remain still.
This is another common reason people think squirrels play dead.
They believe that because the squirrel is completely still, it’s pretending to be dead.
This isn’t the case.
When a squirrel is still, it’s trying to use its camouflage to blend in with its background.
Squirrels have neutral tones in their fur that help them blend in with trees or forest floors.
When they remain still, they can blend in with their surroundings.
This makes it difficult for predators to see them.
Squirrels don’t play dead, but they do sometimes seem like they are when they’re trying to avoid predators.
What Animals Do Play Dead?
Although squirrels don’t play dead, plenty of other animals do.
Here are some animals that play dead.
1. Lemon Sharks
According to National Geographic, lemon sharks are a type of shark that actually plays dead to avoid predators.
When a lemon shark feels threatened, it will roll over on its back.
This makes it difficult for it to breathe and can even result in a few tremors running through its body.
Scientists aren’t sure why lemon sharks choose this method to deter predators.
It’s usually the one doing most of the hunting in its habitat.
Some theorize that the response of rolling over actually makes lemon sharks disoriented.
As a result, they play dead until they can figure out how to get back around.
Whatever the reason, if you’re swimming in the ocean, you might spot a lemon shark on its back playing dead.
Perhaps the most famous animal to play dead is the opossum.
When faced with a predator, the opossum will suddenly drop down and play dead until the predator passes.
The Opossum Society of the United States asserts that this behavior is involuntary.
The opossum has no choice but to play dead because its body automatically does so in the presence of intense fear.
Its body will also perform a few biological functions to further sell the idea that it’s dead.
One of those is drooling.
When an opossum plays dead, the body will start to salivate.
The salivation becomes so intense that it forms bubbles in its mouth.
The opossum does this to make predators think that it’s sick.
The predator is less likely to eat the prey if it thinks it is sick.
The other major biological function the opossum will do when plying dead is to secrete a foul odor.
Since the opossum doesn’t spray odors as a skunk does, it has to leak it out a little.
It does so from its anus.
A green-colored fluid will leak from the anus, which gives off a terrible smell.
The smell is reminiscent of decay and further sells the idea that the opossum is dead.
An opossum has this reaction to a predator because many predators need the act of killing to spur the appetite.
If they’re unable to get that stimulation, then the predator won’t have an interest in the opossum.
Unfortunately, the opossum can sometimes play dead in front of a passing car on the road.
Since it’s an involuntary reaction, it’s not uncommon for opossums to get struck by cars.
When it comes to plying dead, opossums are the masters.
3. Livingston’s Cichlid
The Livingston’s cichlid or sleeper fish is another animal that plays dead.
However, unlike the opossum which uses it to deter predators, the sleeping fish uses it to attract prey to it.
When it hunts, the fish swims to the bottom of the lake.
Once there, it remains perfectly still, acting as if it were dead.
When prey fish go near it to investigate it, the sleeper fish suddenly comes alive and catches them.
While some animals play dead to stay alive, sleeper fish play dead to catch their next meal.
4. Pselaphid Beetle
Bugs also play dead.
The pselaphid beetle is similar to the sleeper fish in that it plays dead to catch food.
When a pselaphid beetle is near ants, it will turn onto its back and pretend that it’s dead.
The ants will find it and carry it into their nest to eat it themselves.
Once the beetle is in the ant nest, it will come back to life and start eating the entire nest.
As long as it can survive an attack from ant soldiers, the beetle has a feast.
5. European Rabbits
When faced with a predator, a rabbit will first try to run.
It has incredibly strong legs which enable it to run fast.
According to Rabbit Care Tips, rabbits will also play dead as a last line of defense.
When a rabbit gets incredibly frightened, it will lie down on its side or back and become stiff.
Rabbits do this for two reasons.
The first is to dissuade the predator from eating them.
Since the predator isn’t able to chase the rabbit down, it won’t have as much interest in killing and eating it.
The second reason is that it allows the rabbit a chance to escape later.
If the predator chooses to take the rabbit back to its den to eat, it will scoop the rabbit up in its mouth and head off.
Since the predator believes that the rabbit is dead, it may not be as vigilant in holding it in its mouth.
This gives the rabbit a chance to escape and run away if the predator becomes distracted or loosens its hold on it.
While it’s rare for rabbits to play dead, you can sometimes see them pretend when they’re very frightened.
6. Eastern Hognose Snake
Snakes also pretend to be dead.
One creature that uses this mechanism for survival is the eastern hognose snake.
This type of snake will become tense and flip over, making it look as though it’s dead.
According to Earth Archives, the snake even emits a foul odor.
The odor comes from the ooze that it releases while “dying.”
The smell, along with the display, can make a predator think twice about eating it.
In particular, a predator may have some concern with the dead snake carrying a disease.
It may choose to hunt down something else and leave the smelly snake alone.
Once the danger has passed, the snake will return to normal and go along its way.
Eastern hognose snakes are predators in their own right.
They’re venomous and poison their prey before eating them.
That said, since the snake isn’t too large, it has a few predators interested in it.
When the snake senses one of those predators nearby, it will fake its death in the hopes of staying alive.
Certain species of ducks, like the Mallard Duck, also fakes their deaths.
This is another rare strategy that the duck will use if it thinks it’s the only way it can stay alive.
In most cases, ducks will fly off to avoid a predator.
However, if a predator manages to sink its teeth into the duck, the duck may suddenly go limp and pretend that it’s dead.
The predator will then take the duck to its den or to a safe place to eat it.
Since the predator thinks that the duck is dead, it tends to be a bit more relaxed.
In some cases, this means that the jaw will be a bit more slack.
As soon as the duck senses a chance to escape, it will come back to life and try and get away.
Ducks pretend to be dead to give them a chance to escape the predator.
8. Pygmy Grasshoppers
When it comes to bugs, pygmy grasshoppers also pretend to be dead when a frog captures them.
According to a study in 2006, researchers determined that pygmy grasshoppers play dead in a very different way than opossums.
While opossums try to recreate death as accurately as they can, pygmy grasshoppers do something different.
When threatened by a frog, the grasshopper will become rigid as it would be in death.
Instead of curling up or mimicking an accurate portrayal of death, however, the grasshopper moves its legs and body in such a way that it becomes larger.
The legs point out at weird angles, for example.
This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the frog to eat it because it can’t fit the grasshopper into its mouth.
Pygmy grasshoppers pretend to be dead, but their method is a little different than other animals.
Why Do Squirrels Suddenly Stop?
If you like to watch squirrels in your backyard, you may notice that they suddenly stop and go rigid.
You may think that the squirrel is plying dead or that it forgot what it was doing.
According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in Connecticut, squirrels have acute senses.
They’re able to see, smell, and hear very well.
Because of that, if one of their senses triggers something and tells them that a predator is near, then they will stop.
Sometimes, they stop to try and determine the source of the smell or noise.
This can help them decide where to run for safety.
They may also stop to calculate the best escape route.
They may be looking at different trees and fences and determining which route they need to take to get to safety.
Finally, squirrels will stop in place to try and camouflage themselves.
They know that their hair gives them some means of cover.
If they happen to be close to trees or foliage, they may stop when they sense a predator in an attempt to fool it.
By remaining still, the squirrel becomes difficult to distinguish from the tree.
The predator may lose interest or not even see them and continue on its way.
If squirrels suddenly stop, then it’s because they sense something that confuses or alerts them.
Why Do Squirrels Lie Flat On The Ground?
Besides standing still, you might also notice that a squirrel lies flat on the ground.
This is often another reason people think squirrels play dead.
While they’re not playing dead, there are a few reasons a squirrel will lie flat on the ground.
Here are some of the reasons squirrels lie flat on the ground.
One of the main reasons that a squirrel will lie flat on the ground is because it’s hiding or trying to camouflage itself.
Many squirrels have two different colors on them.
Their backs are a darker color while their tummies are a lighter color.
This helps them blend into their surroundings better.
If a squirrel is on the ground, however, then its lighter sides don’t always help it stay camouflaged.
To give itself the best chance of staying hidden, it will lie flat on the ground to cover its lighter coloring.
The only part of them that’s exposed is their darker coloring which blends in a bit better with the ground.
If you see a squirrel lying flat on the ground, then it could be trying to camouflage with its surroundings better.
2. Cooling Down
Another reason squirrels lie down is to cool off.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported a few readers had noticed that squirrels were lying down on several surfaces in the Texas heat.
While some might think the squirrels were playing dead, it’s actually a way for them to cool down.
It’s not unlike when a pet moves to the floor and lies down with its tummy on the ground.
This helps it cool off because the floor usually has a slightly cooler temperature than other things.
By pressing its body to the floor, it’s able to cool off faster.
Most animals prefer to press their tummies to the floor rather than their backs because it’s safer.
If they were to lie on their backs, it would expose their tummies to potential predators.
If you see a squirrel lying flat on the ground, it could be because it is trying to cool off.
Most squirrels prefer to sleep in their nests.
However, if they get very tired or feel safe, they might just lower down and sleep.
If you see a squirrel lying on its stomach, it might be sleeping.
Considering how wary and nervous squirrels are, if it’s sleeping on your porch or deck, you should consider it a compliment.
It means the squirrel feels safe there.
Sometimes, a squirrel will lie down when it wants to sleep.
Squirrels do not play dead to deter predators.
However, several other animals do play dead to either deter predators or entice prey.
Squirrels do suddenly stop or lie down, however, which can make some people think that it’s playing dead.