brown squirrel on tree bark

Do Squirrels Play Dead?

Yes, squirrels do play dead as a defense mechanism.

When faced with a threat, squirrels have been known to exhibit a behavior called “playing dead” or “playing possum.” This tactic is used to deceive predators and increase their chances of survival.

Why Do Squirrels Play Dead?

Squirrels play dead as a survival strategy when they feel threatened by predators. By pretending to be lifeless, they hope to trick their attackers into thinking they are no longer a threat or potential prey. This behavior is commonly observed in various squirrel species, including the Eastern gray squirrel and the American red squirrel.

How Do Squirrels Play Dead?

When a squirrel decides to play dead, it typically follows a specific set of actions:

1. Freezing

The squirrel will freeze in place, often with its body stretched out and its limbs rigid. This immobility helps to convince predators that the squirrel is lifeless.

2. Dropping Body Temperature

Squirrels can lower their body temperature to make it seem as if they are no longer alive. This physiological response further enhances the illusion of death.

3. Slowing Heart Rate

By slowing their heart rate, squirrels can make it more difficult for predators to detect any signs of life. This, combined with their motionless state, increases the chances of fooling potential attackers.

4. Becoming Stiff

During the playing dead act, squirrels may become stiff and unresponsive. This stiffness adds to the overall appearance of being deceased.

5. Remaining Still

Squirrels will continue to play dead until they believe the threat has passed. Once they feel safe, they will gradually regain their normal behavior and resume their activities.

When Do Squirrels Play Dead?

Squirrels are more likely to play dead when they encounter a predator that poses a significant threat.

This behavior is often observed when squirrels face predators such as dogs, cats, foxes, or birds of prey. However, it is important to note that not all squirrels will resort to playing dead, as their response to threats can vary depending on the individual and the situation.

Other Defense Mechanisms of Squirrels

While playing dead is a common defense mechanism for squirrels, they also employ other strategies to protect themselves:

Defense MechanismDescription
Tree EscapesSquirrels are agile climbers and can quickly escape predators by climbing trees and leaping from branch to branch.
Warning CallsSquirrels emit loud vocalizations to alert other squirrels in the area of potential danger. This helps to warn the group and increase overall safety.
CamouflageSome squirrel species have fur colors that blend well with their surroundings, allowing them to hide effectively from predators.
Aggressive BehaviorIn certain situations, squirrels may exhibit aggressive behavior, such as chattering, lunging, or tail-flagging, to intimidate predators and protect themselves.


Squirrels do indeed play dead as a defense mechanism when faced with potential threats. This behavior, along with their other defense strategies, helps increase their chances of survival in the wild. By understanding these behaviors, we can appreciate the remarkable adaptations that squirrels have developed to protect themselves from predators.

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