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The Freeze Survival Network: Two Examples from the Animal World and One from My Own World

By: Ron Potter-Efron

I have a good friend, Howard Thompson, who happens to run sled dog teams as a hobby and business here in often snowy west Wisconsin.  Recently he told me about an experience he’d had while running his team of fourteen dogs. Suddenly Howard saw a rabbit almost directly in front of them, perhaps twenty yards away. The rabbit eyed the dogs. But none of the dogs saw it even when passing close by. Why? Because that rabbit sat in place without moving a muscle. It instinctively knew that this situation didn’t call for flight (it would have been useless against all those dogs) or fight. That rabbit’s survival called for absolute immobility. It had no alternative but to freeze. Somehow the rabbit knew dogs’ eyes are great at detecting motion but very bad at spotting still objects.
 
You may be familiar with an animal who is famous for its ability to freeze. It’s the opossum, who when threatened collapses into what is called “death feigning.” Not only does it stop moving, but it also looks as dead as a living animal can look. When “playing possum” its lips are pulled up to bare its teeth, it foams at the mouth, and it even emits a foul smelling odor as if to say “Hey, I’ve been dead for days now, you certainly wouldn’t want to eat me.” You can push and pull the poor beast and its stiff form will be unresponsive. It stays that way for over thirty minutes and up to several hours, apparently unconscious during this period. Even more than the rabbit, opossums have mastered the art of freezing to survive. 
 
We humans don’t Freeze up like that very often. One reason is that we have better alternatives, namely Flight and Fight and/or talking ourselves out of trouble. But I remember a time when I was maybe 12 when I saw three bullies heading toward me with obvious ill intentions. And I just stood there, feeling scared and helpless. But maybe my primordial rabbit saved me. They elected to pass by with only a few very survivable insults. 
 
That’s a relatively minor example, of course. There are many grim stories from the Nazi concentration camps, for instance, in which inmates could only passively absorb being tortured, unable to resist except in their minds. Although some inmates gave up and soon perished others discovered inner strengths that helped them survive. Who knows how often they relied upon the Freeze Survival network to endure?

Do you have a Freeze survival story? Would you share it here? Please e-mail me if you do.
 
Please send your comments on this article to Ron at www.potter-efron.net