The Tooth of the Matter

Ever been bitten by a dog?  A cat?  A snake?  An alligator?

It’s rare to find anyone who has had much contact with animals who hasn’t had trauma of some sort or another.  Both Chuck and I have been bitten by our own snakes.  We’ve also been bitten by dogs and cats, and I was once bitten by a horse and also a squirrel.  The squirrel bite was of most concern, but the horse bite was the most painful; however the dog and cat bites were serious and often left scars.  On the other hand, we barely felt the snake bites, and they left no scars.

Who’s at Fault?

Obviously, a venomous snake bite can cause major trauma and possible death.  Several of our friends have been bitten by venomous snakes, but each admitted they could have prevented the bite by paying more attention.  We have also acknowledged that the bites from our snakes came after a wrong movement on our part.  Because our snakes are fed inside their cages, they have mistaken our fingers for a proffered mouse if we reach in too quickly.  Since these bites can be avoided by caution and attention to placement of hands and feet, it happens rarely.

Unlike dogs, cats, and some other animals that may attack and bite aggressively to protect themselves and/or their territory and/or their mate and/or their offspring and/or to obtain food and/or because of illness, snakes and other reptiles bite for two reasons:  to protect themselves and to eat.  Since we’re too big to eat, snakes have no interest in biting us other than if they feel threatened by someone trying to pick them up or attempting to injure or kill them.

But since snakes and other reptiles are feared and reviled by many, news media often pounces on such incidents and magnifies them to fuel that anxiety.  This happened recently at a major zoo when an experienced docent prepared a four-foot alligator for a live animal program.

News Media

“Unfortunately,” the docent said, “the press got ahold of this whole thing and didn’t let go.  They made it much bigger than it was.”

Although the docent was not in front of the public at the time of the incident, but instead was readying the alligator behind the scenes for that scheduled program, the media announced on the news that evening, “No visitor was injured.”

Who can predict what an animal will do?  “I have used him all summer and I’ve had no problems with him,” said the docent regarding the alligator.  “He was just being very aggressive and decided, I guess, that that day was not the day.”  It happened so quickly, he added, that he didn’t even know he had been bitten.  “It was only when I saw the blood that it occurred to me that something was wrong.”

Any animal with a mouth can bite.  Some bites are worse than others.  When it happens with an animal that people fear or consider exotic, however, it can be blown out of proportion.


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