Play of the Living Dead: Groundhog Survival Habits

The groundhog, or woodchuck, is a rodent related to squirrels. They scurry about forest floors and urban growing spaces. Groundhogs often rampage gardens and attract the enthusiastic attention of household pets, like dogs and cats.

Do Groundhogs Play Dead?

But if you’ve ever witnessed a groundhog’s moment of panic, you’ll notice that, sometimes, they go limp and appear as if they’re dead. So, yes, they do play dead if they feel threatened. But this behavior depends on the immediacy of the threat. It’s not normal behavior like it’s the case with an opossum, but they will do it from time to time.

Because groundhogs can only run seven miles per hour, they have to resort to other means of protection to survive threats and predators. Playing dead, also called Apparent Death, is one of their tools of escape.

Not Like Opossums

Now, this isn’t the same as when opossums play dead. Opossums, when terrified, undergo an involuntary, catatonic state which gives off lowered vital signs complete with a decomposition-like smell. They freeze up, go stiff, and fall over; staying that way for quite some time.

Groundhogs, on the other hand, will play dead when they feel threatened but don’t go stiff. They perform this at will, curling up on their side and mimicking a position of death. But this behavior comes about by their quick evaluation of any possible impending doom.

Threat Level Assessment

So, they don’t truly “play dead,” they only act like they’re dead on a whim. They don’t emit smells of decomposition, go completely stiff, or have lowered physiology.

If they aren’t in any immediate danger, like having a fox chase them, they’ll play dead until they feel safe enough to run away. Groundhogs often do this in the presence of humans, who don’t present a noticeable threat to their safety.

They also do this when dogs want to play or cats want to fight with them because they don’t know how to take it. So, they play dead.

Death Actors

Groundhogs are an important part of the ecosystem and their survival is important. So, in their infinite wisdom and evolution, they developed an ability to act like they’re dead whenever they feel threatened. This isn’t common for them to do as they often opt for a nearby burrow or tree for protection. But when that’s not possible, playing dead is the next best thing.

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