Apparent death

Apparent death, colloquially known as playing dead, feigning death, or playing possum, is a behavior in which animals take on the appearance of being dead. This form of animal deception is an adaptive behavior also known as tonic immobility or thanatosis. Apparent death can be used as a defense mechanism or as a form of aggressive mimicry, and occurs in a wide range of animals.

When induced by humans, the state is sometimes colloquially known as animal hypnosis. According to Gilman et al.,[1] the investigation of "animal hypnosis" dates back to the year 1646 in a report by Athanasius Kircher.

Opossum playing dead
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix helvetica) playing dead (14178349634)
A barred grass snake (N. helvetica) playing dead

Tonic immobility

Iridomyrmex purpureus attacking Rhytidoponera metallica
Black house ants attacking a green-head ant which has gone into tonic immobility

Tonic immobility (TI) is a behaviour in which some animals become apparently temporarily paralysed and unresponsive to external stimuli. In most cases, this occurs in response to an extreme threat such as being captured by a (perceived) predator, although in sharks exhibiting the behaviour, some scientists relate it to mating, arguing that biting by the male immobilizes the female and thus facilitates mating.[2]

Despite appearances, the animal remains conscious throughout tonic immobility.[3] Evidence for this includes the occasional responsive movement, scanning of the environment and animals in TI often taking advantage of escape opportunities.

In sharks

Some sharks can be induced into tonic immobility by inverting them and restraining them by hand, e.g. dogfish sharks, lemon sharks, whitetip reef sharks.[2][4][5][6] For tiger sharks (measuring 3–4 metres in length), tonic immobility can be induced by humans placing their hands lightly on the sides of the animal's snout in the area surrounding the eyes. During tonic immobility in sharks, the dorsal fins straighten, and both breathing and muscle contractions become more steady and relaxed. This state persists for an average of 15 minutes before recovery and the resumption of active behaviour. Scientists have exploited this response to study shark behaviour; chemical shark repellent has been studied to test its effectiveness and to more accurately estimate dose sizes, concentrations and time to recovery.[7] Tonic immobility can also be used as a form of mild anesthesia during experimental manipulations of sharks.[8][9]

Scientists also believe that tonic immobility can be a stressful experience for sharks. By measuring blood chemistry samples when the shark is immobile, it has been suggested that tonic immobility can actually put stress on the shark, and reduce breathing efficiency. However, it has also been proposed that sharks have a series of compensatory mechanisms that work to increase respiration rates and lower stress.[10]

It has been observed that orcas can exploit sharks' tonic immobility to prey on large sharks. Some orcas ram sharks from the side to stun them, then flip the sharks to induce tonic immobility and keep them in such state for sustained time. For some sharks, this prevents water from flowing through their gills and the result can be fatal.[11]

In teleost fishes

Goldfish, trout, rudd, tench, brown bullhead, medaka, paradise fish, and topminnow have been reported to go limp when they are restrained on their backs.[12] Oscars seem to go into shock when they are stressed (when their aquarium is being cleaned, for example): they lie on their side, stop moving their fins, start to breathe more slowly and deeply, and lose colour.[13] A similar behavior has been reported for convict tangs in the field.[14]

In reptiles

Tonic immobility can be reliably induced in iguanas by a combination of inversion, restraint and moderate pressure. During TI, there are obvious changes in respiration including a decline in respiration rate, the rhythm becomes sporadic, and the magnitude irregular. The prolonged period of TI does not seem to be consistent with the fear hypothesis, but could be the result of a period of cortical depression due to increased brain stem activity.[15]

Tonic immobility can also be induced in the Carolina anole. The characteristics of this TI vary as a function of the duration and condition of captivity.[16]

In rabbits

In rabbits, the physiological and behavioral responses to induced tonic immobility have been found to be indicative of a fear-motivated stress state. Tonic immobility is considered a last attempt for prey to escape being eaten by a predator. A 2006 study concluded that rabbits show symptoms that are in line with being stressed after being in a tonic immobility state, such as a faster heart rate and breathing.[17] This confirms that the promotion of tonic immobility to increase a bond between rabbits and their owners – holding the rabbit on its back and thinking the rabbits enjoy it – is misplaced; however, the researchers concluded that inducing tonic immobility in rabbits is appropriate for certain veterinary procedures, as it holds less risk than anesthesia.[17]

In humans

Tonic immobility has been hypothesized to occur in humans undergoing intense trauma, including sexual assault. While "freezing" in response to life-threatening situations is well-known, the common "freeze" response exhibited by victims of rape is often misunderstood as passive consent.[18][19][20]

There is also an increasing body of evidence that points to a positive contribution of tonic immobility in human functioning. Thus, defensive immobilization is hypothesized to have played a crucial role in the evolution of human parent-child attachment[21], sustained attention and suggestibility,[22][23] REM sleep[24] and theory of mind.[25]

As a scientific tool

Tonic immobility is considered to be a fear-potentiated response induced by physical restraint and characterised by reduced responsiveness to external stimulation. It has been used as a measure in the assessment of animal welfare, particularly hens, since 1970.[26][27][28] The rationale for the TI test is that the experimenter simulates a predator thereby eliciting the anti-predator response. The precept is that the prey animal 'pretends' to be dead to be able to escape when/if the predator relaxes its concentration. Death-feigning birds often take advantage of escape opportunities; TI in quail reduces the probability of the birds being predated by cats.[29]

To induce tonic immobility, the animal is gently restrained on its side or back for a period of time, e.g. 15 seconds. This is done either on a firm, flat surface or sometimes in a purpose-built ‘V’- or ‘U’-shaped restraining cradle. In rodents, the response is sometimes induced by additionally pinching or attaching a clamp to the skin at the nape of the neck.[30] Scientists record behaviours such as the number of inductions (15-second restraining periods) required for the animal to remain still, the latency to the first major movements (often cycling motions of the legs), latency to first head or eye movements and the duration of immobility, sometimes called the ‘righting time’.

Tonic immobility has been used to show that hens in cages are more fearful than those in pens,[28] hens on the top tier of tiered battery cages are more fearful than those on the lower levels,[31] hens carried by hand are more fearful than hens carried on a mechanical conveyor,[32] and hens undergoing longer transportation times are more fearful than those undergoing transport of a shorter duration.[33]

Tonic immobility as a scientific tool has also been used with mice,[34] gerbils,[35] guinea pigs,[36] rats,[30] rabbits[37] and pigs.[38]


Heterodon platirhinos 2
Eastern hog-nosed snake playing dead and regurgitating a toad
Latrodectus geometricus female in thanatosis
Brown widow spider resorting to thanatosis after being shaken from her web
Adult male livingstonii
Cichlids of the genus Nimbochromis express thanatosis as a form of aggressive mimicry, playing dead to attract prey

In animal behaviour, thanatosis (from the Greek noun θανάτωσις, meaning "putting to death"; cf. : Thanatos) is the process by which an animal feigns death in order to evade unwelcome attention. It can be for various reasons, such as that of a prey evading a predator, a male trying to mate with a female, or a predator trying to lure potential prey closer. The French biologist Georges Pasteur classifies it as a form of self-mimesis, a form of camouflage or mimicry in which the "mimic" imitates itself in a dead state.[39]

For defense

For defensive purposes, thanatosis hinges on the pursuer's becoming unresponsive to its victim, as most predators only catch live prey.[39]

In beetles, artificial selection experiments have shown that there is heritable variation for length of death-feigning. Those selected for longer death-feigning durations are at a selective advantage to those at shorter durations when a predator is introduced,[40] which suggests that thanatosis is indeed adaptive.

In the hog-nosed snake, a threatened individual rolls onto its back and appears to be dead when threatened by a predator, while a foul-smelling, volatile fluid oozes from its body. Predators, such as cats, then lose interest in the snake, which both looks and smells dead. One reason for their loss of interest is that rotten-smelling animals are avoided as a precaution against infectious disease, so the snake is, in this case, exploiting that reaction. Newly hatched young also instinctively show this behaviour when rats try to eat them.[41]

In mammals, the Virginia opossum is perhaps the best known example of defensive thanatosis. "Playing possum" is an idiomatic phrase which means "pretending to be dead".[42] It comes from a characteristic of the Virginia opossum, which is famous for pretending to be dead when threatened.[43][44] This instinct does not always pay off in the modern world; for example, opossums scavenging roadkill may use it in response to the threat posed by oncoming traffic, and subsequently end up as roadkill themselves.[45]

The usual advice for humans attempting to survive an attack by a brown bear is to lie face down, cover the face with ones hands/arms/elbows, and 'play dead'; hopefully the bear will get bored and wander away after a while.[46]

"Playing possum" can also mean simply pretending to be injured, unconscious, asleep, or otherwise vulnerable, often to lure an opponent into a vulnerable position him or herself.[42]

Thanatosis has also been observed in some invertebrates such as the wasp Nasonia vitripennis,[47] and the cricket, Gryllus bimaculatus.[48]

For reproduction

In the spider species Pisaura mirabilis, male spiders often stage elaborate rituals of gift-giving and thanatosis to avoid getting eaten by female spiders during mating. Studies have shown higher chances of success in mating with females for males who exhibit death-feigning more frequently than for males who do it less.[49]

For predation

Nimbochromis (sleeper cichlids), endemic to Lake Malawi in East Africa, are large predatory fish for whom thanatosis is a form of aggressive mimicry. This fish will lie down on its side on the bottom sediments and assume a blotchy coloration. Scavengers, attracted to what seems like a dead fish, will approach the predator to investigate. N. livingstoni then abandons the pretense, righting itself again and quickly eating any scavenger unfortunate enough to come too close.[50][51] A similar strategy has also been observed in the African cichlid Lamprologus lemairii from Lake Tanganyika [52] and in the Central American yellowjacket cichlid Parachromis friedrichsthalii.[53]

See also


  1. ^ Gilman, T.T., Marcuse, F.L. and Moore, A.U., (1960). Animal hypnosis: a study of the induction of tonic immobility in chickens. Journal of Comparative Physiology and Psychology, 43: 99-111
  2. ^ a b Henningsen, A.D., (1994). Tonic immobility in 12 elasmobranchs - use as an aid in captive husbandry. Zoo Biology 13: 325-332. doi:10.1002/zoo.1430130406
  3. ^ Jones, R.B (1986). "The tonic immobility reaction of the domestic fowl: a review". World's Poultry Science Journal. 42 (1): 82–96. doi:10.1079/WPS19860008.
  4. ^ Whitman, P.A., Marshall, J.A., and Keller, E.C.Jr. (1986) Tonic immobility in the smooth dogfish shark, Mustelus canis (Pisces, Carcharhinidae). Copeia 1986: 829-832.
  5. ^ Watsky, M.A., and Gruber, S.H. (1990) Induction and duration of tonic immobility in the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris. Fish Physiology and Biochemistry 8: 207-210.
  6. ^ Davie, P.S., Franklin, C.E., and Grigg, G.C. (1993) Blood pressure and heart rate during tonic immobility in the black tipped reef shark, Carcharhinus melanoptera. Fish Physiology and Biochemistry 12: 95-100.
  7. ^ "Tonic immobility". Shark defense: Chemical repellents. Retrieved January 28, 2006.
  8. ^ Heithaus, M.R., Dill, L.M., Marshall, G.J., and Buhleier, B. (2002) Habitat use and foraging behavior of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in a seagrass ecosystem. Marine Biology 140: 237-248.
  9. ^ Holland, K.N., Wetherbee, B.M., owe, C.G., and Meyer, C.G. (1999) Movements of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in coastal Hawaiian waters. Marine Biology 134: 665-673.
  10. ^ Brooks, E. J., et al. "The Stress Physiology of Extended Duration Tonic Immobility in the Juvenile Lemon Shark, Negaprion Brevirostris (Poey 1868)." Journal of experimental marine biology and ecology 409.1-2 (2011): 351-60. SCOPUS. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
  11. ^ Lauren Smith (2017-11-16). "Orcas vs great white sharks: in a battle of the apex predators who wins?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  12. ^ Table 2 in: Whitman, P.A., Marshall, J.A., and Keller, E.C.Jr. (1986) Tonic immobility in the smooth dogfish shark, Mustelus canis (Pisces, Carcharhinidae). Copeia 1986: 829-832.
  13. ^ Crawford, F.T. (1977) Induction and duration of tonic immobility. The Psychological Record 27: 89-107.
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  45. ^ "Virginia Opossum". Mass Audubon. Retrieved May 11, 2011. Opossums are frequently encountered as corpses along highways. Some biologists believe that many die as they feed on road-killed animals – a favorite food. Others believe that the opossums’ small brain (5 times smaller than that of a raccoon) suggests that they may just be too dumb to get out of the way of vehicles!
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Brother Voodoo

Brother Voodoo (Jericho Drumm) is a fictional character, a supernatural superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. He first appeared in Strange Tales #169 (Sept. 1973). The character was created by publisher Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, and artist John Romita Sr. Since replacing Doctor Strange as Sorcerer Supreme in The New Avengers #53 (July 2009), the character is referred to as Doctor Voodoo.


The Cluemaster is a fictional supervillain appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics, commonly as an adversary of the superhero Batman. Cluemaster first appeared in Detective Comics #351 (May 1966) and was created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino.

A failed game show host, the character became a criminal who leaves clues to his crimes, but unlike the Riddler's clues, they are not in the form of riddles.

Comic book death

In the comic book fan community, the apparent death and subsequent return of a long-running character is often called a comic book death. A comic book death is generally not taken seriously by readers and is rarely permanent or meaningful other than for story or thematic purposes. The term is usually not applied to characters who have the ability to return from the dead as an established power or ability, such as Solomon Grundy.

Cross My Heart (novel)

Cross My Heart is the 21st novel in the Alex Cross series all written by author James Patterson. The novel takes place after Alex Cross, Run, in which Alex tries contemplating a life outside the Metro Police, after the apparent death of Ava, an orphan girl they took in. It was initially not planned by Patterson, but was later confirmed to be in the works. The novel will once again feature Metro Police detective Alex Cross. Cross My Heart will be released 20 years after the original novel, Along Came a Spider was released. The novel's events, having ended on a cliffhanger, were continued in the next novel, Hope to Die.

Data's Day

"Data's Day" is the 85th episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the 11th episode of the fourth season. This episode introduces both Keiko O'Brien and Data's pet cat Spot.

As Data contemplates the impending marriage of his friend Keiko Ishikawa to Transporter Chief Miles O'Brien, he learns about the peculiar minutiae – such as last-minute jitters and ballroom dancing – that surround human nuptials. At the same time, he investigates the apparent death of the Vulcan ambassador whom the Enterprise was ferrying to the Neutral Zone in order to conduct treaty negotiations with the Romulans.

Jah Live

"Jah Live" is a song by Bob Marley & The Wailers, released as a single in 1975. The song was recorded and released within days following the announcement of the death of Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia whom Rastafarians see as the reincarnation of God, whom they call Jah. The song was written as a message to the world that Haile Selassie I had not died as the Ethiopian government of the time and (according to the song) detractors of the Rastafarian religion claimed. When the song was released, Selassie was claimed dead by the Ethiopian authorities but there was no body. Marley was prescient in response to the news that no body had not been found saying, "Yuh cyant kill God".

In the song, Marley directly confronts those who doubt the Rastafari movement because of the apparent death of Selassie I:

Fools sayin' in their heart

Rasta your God is dead

But I and I know Jah! Jah!

Dreaded it shall be dreaded and dread...Though originally recorded as a single, the song has since been released on the 1992 box set Songs of Freedom, as a bonus track on the 2001 re-release of Marley's 1976 album Rastaman Vibration and in 2002 on its "deluxe edition", and on the compilations One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers (2001) and Gold (2005).

A dub version of the song, titled "Concrete", was released on the single's B-side. It has since been released on the deluxe edition of Rastaman Vibration in 2002. The song is featured in the closing credits of Countryman, the legendary rasta movie.

List of DC Comics characters named Batman

Batman is the name of a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. The original and best-known Batman is Bruce Wayne, however other characters in the DC Universe have adopted the alias when he has been indisposed.

List of Doom Patrol members

The Doom Patrol is a team of comic book superheroes, as published by DC Comics. The roster of the team has changed a great deal over the years. These roster lists are of the members during the Patrol's various incarnations by team iteration.

The codenames listed under Character are those used during the time frame of the particular iteration. Characters with more than one codename for that period have them listed chronologically and separated by a slash (/). Bolded names in the most recent iteration published are the current team members. First appearance is the place where the character first appeared as a member of a particular iteration. It is not necessarily the first appearance of the character in print, nor the story depicting how the character joined the team.

All information is listed in publication order first, then alphabetical.

List of Freedom Fighters members

The Freedom Fighters is a team of comic book superheroes, as published by DC Comics.

The roster of the team has changed a great deal over the years. These roster lists are of the members during the team's various incarnations by team iteration.

The codenames listed under Character are those used during the time frame of the particular iteration. Characters with more than one codename for that period have them listed chronologically and separated by a slash (/). Bolded names in the most recent iteration published are the current team members.

First Appearance is the place where the character first appeared as a member of a particular iteration. It is not necessarily the first appearance of the character in print, nor the story depicting how the character joined the team.

All information is listed in publication order first, then alphabetical.

Mutant Liberation Front

The Mutant Liberation Front, or MLF, is a fictional supervillain group appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The group has been depicted as primarily enemies of X-Force. Created by writer Louise Simonson and artist Rob Liefeld, the Mutant Liberation Front first appeared in The New Mutants #86 (February 1990).

The Mutant Liberation group consisted of young terrorist mutants, formed under the mutant time-traveler Stryfe. After his apparent death, the group reforms under Reignfire.

Playing Possum

For the concept "playing possum", see Apparent death.Playing Possum is singer-songwriter Carly Simon's fifth studio album, released in April 1975.

It was Simon's third consecutive album to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard Pop albums chart, peaking at No. 10 in June 1975. The lead single from the album, "Attitude Dancing", which featured Carole King on backing vocals, was also a success, peaking at No. 21 on Billboard Pop singles chart, and No. 18 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. A second single, "Waterfall," which featured prominent backing vocals by Simon's then-husband James Taylor, didn't fare as well, reaching no higher than No. 78 on the Pop singles chart. It fared much better on the AC chart, entering the Top 40 and peaking at No. 21. The album's third and final single "More and More" was co-written by New Orleans pianist Dr. John, who also played piano on the track, along with Ringo Starr on drums, but it peaked no higher than No.94 on the Pop singles chart.

Saleh Jerbo

Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus, commonly referred to as Saleh Jerbo, was the Chief-of-Staff of the SLA-Unity. He was indicted by the International Criminal Court to be tried, together with Abdallah Banda, for three counts of war crimes allegedly committed during the Haskanita raids against African Union peacekeepers within the context of the Darfur conflict in Sudan. The case against him was dropped without prejudice after his apparent death on 19 April 2013.


Yuyudhana (Sanskrit: युयुधान, Yuyudhāna), better known as Satyaki (Sanskrit: सात्यकि, Sātyaki), was a powerful warrior belonging to the Vrishni clan of the Yadavas, to which Krishna also belonged. According to the Puranas, he was the grandson of Shini of the Vrishni clan, and adopted son of Satyaka, after whom he was named. A valiant warrior, Satyaki was devoted to Krishna and was a student of Arjuna as well as a co-student of Dronachariya. Satyaki was a valiant warrior and on one particular occasion, Drona was stunned when Satyaki broke his bow for 101 times successively. He is also known as the unconquerable Satyaki.

In case of the apparent death of Pandavas at Lakshagraha, Satyaki does the last rites for the Pandavas as their closest living relation. He is also the one who does the last rites for his cousin Abhimanyu. Both of these rituals indicate his closeness to the Pandava main clan.

Statue of Sherlock Holmes, London

A statue of Sherlock Holmes by the sculptor John Doubleday stands near the supposed site of 221B Baker Street, the fictional detective's address in London. Unveiled on 23 September 1999, the sculpture was funded by the Abbey National building society, whose headquarters were on the purported site of the famous address. As no site was available on Baker Street itself the statue was installed outside Baker Street tube station, on Marylebone Road. Doubleday had previously produced a statue of Holmes for the town of Meiringen in Switzerland, below the Reichenbach Falls whence the detective fell to his apparent death in the story "The Final Problem".

The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul

"The Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul" is the name of an eight issue comic book crossover story arc published by DC Comics in 2007 and 2008. It involves the return of notable Batman villain Ra's al Ghul, and is his first appearance since his apparent death in "Batman: Death and the Maidens" in 2003. It also connects back to the "Batman and Son" storyline, which introduced Damian as the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul.

The seeds for the story were planted in 2007's Batman Annual #26, which added some more background to the origin story of Ra's. The same week the first issue of the story came out, Robin Annual #7 served as a jumping off point with an interlude starring Damian.

The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu

The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu is a 1930 American pre-Code film directed by Rowland V. Lee. It is the second of three films starring Warner Oland as the fiendish Fu Manchu, who returns from apparent death in the previous film, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), to seek revenge on those he holds responsible for the death of his wife and child.

The Twelve Chairs

The Twelve Chairs (Russian: Двенадцать стульев, Dvenadtsat stulyev) is a classic satirical novel by the Odessan Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, published in 1928. Its plot follows characters attempting to obtain jewelry hidden in a chair. Its main character Ostap Bender reappears in the book's sequel The Golden Calf, in spite of his apparent death in Chairs. The novel has been adapted to other media, primarily film.

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