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Many animals, such as sharks, beetles, snakes and the Virginia opossum, are capable of appearing to be dead to an observer, while otherwise alive. This could either be a reflex action, as in tonic immobility, or a defense mechanism for avoiding predators, as in thanatosis, which is probably adaptive, or "playing possum", which is more instinctive. Such actions often prove beneficial in the natural environment but, in the modern world of human intervention, can also be fatal.

Playing dead is an antipredator adaptation.

Tonic immobilityEdit

Tonic immobility is a natural state of paralysis that animals enter, in most cases when presented with a threat. Some scientists relate it to mating in certain animals like the shark.Some sharks can be placed in a tonic immobility state by turning them upside down or lightly rubbing the sides of their nose

. The shark remains in this state of paralysis for an average of fifteen minutes before it recovers. Scientists have exploited this [phenomenon to study shark behaviour.[1] Usually when testing sharks under this "tonic" state, scientists will put a chemical plume in the water awakening the shark.

Sharks may not always respond to tonic immobility by physical inversion of the animal, as has been done with lemon and reef sharks. With tiger sharks 10 to 15 feet in length, tonic immobility may be achieved by placing hands lightly on the sides of the animal's snout approximate to the general area surrounding its eyes. Great White sharks have been shown to be not as responsive as other species whenever tonic immobility has been attempted. Scientists believe that tonic, displayed by sharks, may be linked with defence, because female sharks seem more responsive than others [2]. During tonic immobility, the dorsal fin(s) straighten, and both breathing and muscle contractions become more steady and relaxed.

Tonic immobility also can be somewhat effective on anole lizards, and a loose study was done with tonic immobility with the rabbit. Both were inconsistent examples of tonic immobility.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Tonic immobility has also been used to describe the paralysis which often immobilizes animals, such as rodents or birds, when they feel threatened by a predator. It can be argued that tonic immobility plays a role in survival if it helps a hunted animal to blend in with its surroundings by remaining as motionless as an inanimate object. This tonic state is common with invertebrates as well.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Inducing tonic immobility in common animals requires, in some cases, extreme treatment such as electric shock, along with other elements which produce stress. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

ThanatosisEdit

File:BatrixNatrixBellyPattern.JPG

In animal behaviour, thanatosis (from the Greek noun θανάτωσις meaning "putting to death") is the process by which an animal feigns death in order to evade unwelcome attention, such as that of a predator, or a male trying to mate with a female. This hinges on the pursuer becoming unresponsive to its victim, as most predators only catch live prey.[3] 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, such that its pursuer no longer takes notice of it.[3] It is a phenomenon known in invertebrates such as the Hymenoptera Nasonia vitripennis[4] and the Orthoptera Gryllus bimaculatus,[5] but also in vertebrates such as Didelphis marsupialis.[6] Artificial selection experiments have shown that there is heritable variation for length of death-feigning in beetles, and that those selected for longer death-feigning durations are at a selective advantage to those at shorter durations, when a predator is introduced,[7] which suggests that thanatosis is indeed adaptive.

When a Hog-nosed Snake rolls onto its back and appears to be dead when threatened by a predator, 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.[8]

"Playing possum"Edit

File:PlayingPossum.jpg
"Playing possum" is an idiomatic phrase which means "pretending to be dead". It comes from a characteristic of the Virginia opossum, which is famous for pretending to be dead when threatened. This instinct doesn't 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.

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

Evolutionary significanceEdit

Genetic controlEdit

NeurobiologyEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Tonic Immobility. Shark defense: Chemical repellents. URL accessed on January 28 2006.
  2. Sharkman - TV programme on Discovery Channel
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pasteur, G. (1982). “A classificatory review of mimicry systems”. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 13: 169–199.
  4. King, B., H. Leaich (2006). Variation in propensity to exhibit thanatosis in Nasonia vitripennis (Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae). Journal of Insect Behaviour 19 (2): 241–249.
  5. Nishino, H. (2004). Motor output characterizing thanatosis in the cricket Gryllus bimaculatus. Journal of Experimental Behaviour 207: 3899–3915.
  6. Francq, E. (1969). Behavioural aspects of feigned death in the opossum Didelphis marsupialis. American Midwest Naturalist 81: 556–568.
  7. Miyatake, T; Katayama, K.; Takeda, Y.; Nakashima, A.; Mizumoto, M. (2004), "Is death-feigning adaptive? Heritable variation in fitness difference of death-feigning behaviour", Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 271: 2293–2296, doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2858 
  8. Triumph of Life (2006). Alexandria, VA: PBS Home Video.

Key textsEdit

BooksEdit

PapersEdit

PapersEdit

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DissertationsEdit

  • Dubicka, I. (1979). The psychopharmacology of l-tryptophan: Potentiation of tonic immobility duration in rabbits: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Fuse, T. (2008). Psychophysiological responses to sexual assault related imagery in sexual assault survivors with and without a history of tonic immobility. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Gagliardi, G. J. (1977). Effects of social isolation on tonic immobility in chickens: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Garrison, S. K. (1977). Tonic immobility in the crayfish (Procambarus clarkii): Effects of environment, simulated predation, and habituation: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Glykys, J. C. (2008). GABA(a) receptor subunits mediating tonic inhibition in the hippocampus and the main source of GABA responsible for their activation. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering
  • Hagaman, T. E. (1978). Sequence effects in the antipredator behavior of the house cricket (Acheta domesticus L.): Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Hays, H. E. (1976). Response of the house fly Musca domestica to the webs of the spiders Argiope aurantia and Argiope trifasciata: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Laverty, J. J. (1978). Septal lesions in C57BL/6J mice: Effects on various behaviors in maze and free-escape water tasks: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Lexington, J. (2007). An examination of the relationship between tonic immobility and the psychophysiology, behaviors, and perceptions in response to a hypothetical date rape scenario. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Rager, D. R. (1987). Anxiolytic drugs and tonic immobility in chickens: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Reese, N. C. (1976). The effects of social experience on duration of tonic immobility (animal hypnosis) in white Leghorn chickens: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Risinger, F. O. (1989). Behavioral toxicity of selected organophosphate insecticides: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Young, B. J. (1993). Relationship of freezing and stimulus-evoked heart-rate changes in the acoustic startle habituation paradigm: Dissertation Abstracts International.

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