Sunday, January 22, 2012

I've Been Bitten by More Animals than You

I can't run, and I've been sick all week, so the usual subject matter of this blog has been a complete washout. Therefore, it's story time...

I believe everyone has a gift. Maybe yours is running, or being really good at cooking, or perhaps Parchesi. Whatever. My gift is a singular talent for getting bit by animals.

The crown jewel of my own personal When Animals Attack is that I've been bitten by a poisonous snake. It was the summer before 2nd grade, and I was at a YMCA day camp, not far from where I currently live, actually. Amidst all the swimming, and archery, and arts & crafts that we did, we were also supposed to learn. My group was out on a nature walk, and I got to see nature a little bit too closely. We were walking roughly in single file on a path in the woods, and I was the last one in the group. I felt something prick my left ankle. I looked back, expecting to see a twig that had popped up as I stepped on it. Instead:

Needless to say, I did not respond in a calm, rational manner. I ran to the head of the group, where the counselor was leading us, all the while screaming "I'VE BEEN BITTEN BY A SNAKE!!!" Of course, freaking out raises your heart rate and spreads the poison faster, so this was actually the worst thing I could do. The counselor doubted my tale of woe. "It was probably a rabbit." Really? I was terrible at archery; I was not the best at basketball; and my arts & crafts were less than stellar, but even at that young age I could tell a snake from a rabbit with 100% accuracy, and I assured him that it was not a damn rabbit. I don't recall whether he looked, or others went back a few minutes later, but eventually they found the snake still lying in the path, stepped on by every kid in the group, no doubt.

If you consult
A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America (Second Edition) entry for "Northern Copperhead", you'll see that I was supremely unlucky.

These snakes are generally quiet, almost lethargic, preferring to lie motionless or to make a slow retreat when encountered. When sufficiently agitated, however, they can strike vigorously and may vibrate their tails rapidly.

Meanwhile, I was taken to see the camp nurse, and she tried to suck the poison out of my leg with a needle, to no avail. 911 was called and I ended up in the ER. Copperhead bites are relatively minor, seldom requiring antivenom. However, because I was eight years old and really, really small for my age, this was a big deal. My leg swelled up to roughly the size of a basketball, and every day the doctors marked how high the swelling had progressed. A plastic surgeon was called in, and I guess there was at least a chance I could lose the leg. And since I was the first victim of a poisonous snake in York County in 20 years, they had to bring antivenom in from California.

At any rate, however, I recovered, even had a mention in the newspaper, and went on to live a productive life of getting bit by other animals...

I've also been attacked by a chicken. This isn't nearly as fun a story, and my memories of it are a lot hazier. I was at a friends house, and his family had a small farm with a couple horses, goats, and chickens. One of the chickens was rather ill-tempered. In reality, I'm sure the chicken was fine, and it was just that my friend and I liked to play and build hay forts in what the chicken considered its territory. And of course, that's what happened. We startled the chicken, it freaked out, flew at me, and pecked me in the stomach. No hospitalization was required this time, since it wasn't a venomous chicken.

I suspect more people are bitten by mammals than by birds or reptiles. Don't worry, I've got that covered. I've been bitten by dogs and cats (I'm bitten by cats almost every day), but where I probably have the drop on you is that I've also been bitten by rats.

It's not as gross and scary as it sounds. During my senior year at college, I was a lab assistant in the psychology department, and one of my responsibilities was to care for the department's rats and assist the freshman in their behavioral science lab, in which they were supposed to train a rat to press a bar in exchange for water. I had a very friendly and well-trained rat of my own, named "Skinner."

Each rat lived by itself in a small, plastic cage for the duration of the semester. After the semester was over, we tried to find them homes. However, three were not adopted by the time the next semester's rats arrived. Those three lived together in a big wire-mesh cage and chased each other around all day. On a few occasions, I was careless as I reached into retrieve the rats from the cage, and had my other hand on the cage as I opened the door. This would always result in rats biting my fingertips, which was quite painful. Overall, it wasn't a bad job. I learned a lot about statistics and got to collect and analyze data for sensory psychology experiments, too. But I've been bitten by rats and most people haven't.

Still, the grandest prize of them all has eluded me. My wife has been bitten by a tiger and I have not. Sure, it was a cute baby tiger, hardly larger than our cats, that was playing at our feet and nipped her leg as we held and were photographed with another cute baby tiger at the Natural Bridge Zoo. Still, that does not change the fact that she was bitten by a tiger. It should have been me. It should have been me.


  1. I've also been bitten by cats, dogs, and mosquitoes. ;-)

  2. And I really thought my son held the #1 prize in this category with his peacock attack. Nope - you guys take the cake - we just can't beat tigers and poisonous snakes.