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When is a goat like a possum (and when isn't it)?

November 8 2019

You've heard of the expression "to play possum"?  Well, this is Oopsie, my Tennessee fainting goat.  The trait of myotonia congenita (the stiffening of muscles and "fainting") was selectively bred into these goats for two reasons:  human amusement and herd protection. Fainting goats used to be (supposedly) incorporated into sheep herds so that if a predator attacks the herd, the goat stiffens up and falls over, therefore being carried off by the predator and ensuring the safety of the herd.  Sorry, Oopsie, but that's where your lineage came from.  So, is this like when a possum "plays possum"?  Sort of.  Both reactions are completely involuntary but that's where the similarities end.  The goat is still conscious when it "faints" and it usually only lasts for a few minutes. Possums, on the other hand, are masters of deception.  If spooked, a possum will fall over with its mouth and eyes open (and perhaps some drool for good measure).  It becomes stiff and its heart rate slows to just a few beats per minute. The possum is unconscious; you can pick it up and it really feels dead.  The mystery of it all, is that no one knows how the possum KNOWS when the danger has passed.  It could remain in this state for minutes or hours.  But once it senses that it's no longer in danger, it "wakes up", shakes itself off, and continues on its merry way...a much better fate than the poor fainting goat in the herd!  Have no fear...Oopsie is a pet and doesn't have to worry about predators here.  He's super friendly and never gets into trouble because if he even thinks about acting up (like jumping over the fence to eat my plants), his legs get stiff and he can barely walk, let alone jump!  For more info on fainting goats, check out: https://faintinggoat.com/