Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Getting Bit

I got bitten by a Ferret in Cornwall, circa 1971. There's a writing prompt for you all. What animals have bitten you and why? ~ Roger Edwards of Contains Moderate Peril

In the fine tradition of "getting to know you" week of Blaugust 2021, I couldn't resist getting down a few words on this delightful little prompt that Mr. Peril dropped over on the Blaugust Discord.

As an Australian I feel like I have a responsibility to carry the flag of 'weird animal stories' for the largely Usonian Blaugust crowd. Again, as an Australian I have my fair share of animal stories that happened to people close to me, like the friend that didn't quite lose his leg after a redback spider bite, or the time my brother didn't quite step on a saltwater crocodile, or that time mother got jumped by a king brown snake that was hanging out in a dustbin at a roadside rest area, or that embarassing interaction between Mrs. Owl and that flock of emus, but the sad fact is that despite my nationality, a combination of my natural homeboyish tendencies and my lack of any kind of willingness to put myself in dangerous situations mean that I don't have really all that many good animal stories of my own, and of the ones I do have, only one involves biting.

Nevertheless, here's my top five animal encounters (thus far), in escalating order of the trauma inflicted. And I do mean trauma, this list might not be for the squeamish.


The traditional thing to ask an Aussie is always a kangaroo question, either the potentially Veggietales inspired "do you have a pet kangaroo?" or "do you ride a kangaroo to work". Sadly the answer to both is and has always been an emphatic negative, but my morning and evening commutes through the Adelaide Hills used to regularly be delayed by that other most stereotypical of Australian animals, the koala, who are often found stoned out of their minds of eucalyptus either sitting on or mindlessly wandering along the bitumen roads. Once every couple of weeks or so I would come across a long queue of cars waiting behind the hazard-lit indicators of some poor sod who'd got out to try and tempt a koala out of the line of traffic. Only once was I in the situation of being that poor sod, and thankfully by the time I'd gotten out of my car and wandered over to look helplessly at it (what exactly I was hoping to actually do, I have no idea), the beast had decided that there was a nice spot on the hard shoulder just over there and wandered off. I am not convinced that this experience qualifies me as a koala whisperer.


Of all the creatures that one might expect to encounter out in an Australian forest, deer are likely not high on the list, but like so many other European species, deer (a kind of horizontal kangaroo, for those of you that might not be familiar with them) were brought to Australia to hunt, and quickly got out of control in a land with no natural predators. I was out running in the forest one day (as one does when one is young and impressionable and an Orienteer) when the undergrowth directly underneath me suddenly moved and I found myself suddenly falling and narrowly avoiding impaling myself on a fallen pine branch after tripping over what I eventually realised was a small deer, which immediately shot off in the opposite direction. Friends, I was shaken, but likely not as badly as the poor deer was. I often think of that poor deer, I hope it's living its best life out there in the forest.


Thankfully, my kangaroo story doesn't involve any punching, although it doesn't involve me getting taken out by a roo. Much like the previous story, this one was a random encounter in the bush while orienteering, yet more proof that going outside is bad for your health. I was running along a hillside, minding my own business, when a roo suddenly appeared in my peripheral vision, undoubtedly startled by another runner somewhere nearby. I'm not exactly sure how it didn't see me, clad as I was in bright blue and red, but the roo jumped straight across in front of me, and then for good measure, gave me a solid whop across the face with its tail as it disappeared off into the bush again. Kangaroos are surprisingly solid creatures, and this whomp sent me flying, at least half from shock rather than the impact, but I was completely fine and was able to resume my run once I'd stopped laughing.


I know, I know. Getting stung by a bee is not all that exciting, though as someone with a (mild) allergy I do find the whole experience gets me a little hot under the collar. But no, this stinging was notable not so much for the fact that it happened (these things do when you have a yellow school uniform and ever go outside), but for the fact that at the time it happened I was currently closed in a locker as a joke by some friends, who seemed to find my escalating shouts and screams to be released as I realised what had happened, and my general inability to communicate the same the while panicking that my allergy might mean I could die alone in a dark locker surrounded by my schoolmates, to be extremely hilarious and not at all a reason to stop leaning on the door and let me out. It can't have been all that more than a few dozen seconds in there, but to me, in the dark and away from my antihistamines, it felt like a very long time indeed.

As ever with beestings, though, it was worse for the bee.


There are terrifying creatures in Australia's water that will rip you limb from limb, and there are creepy crawlies all over the place that are just waiting to pump you full of horrible venom that will destroy your entire nervous system, and then there is the most horrible of all, the one that people threaten their children with, the common wombat. No-one makes up killer versions of wombats, because no-one needs to, everyone knows the wombat is a killer just as it is. Don't be fooled by the propaganda, wombats are murder machines, biding their time until they strike when you least expect it.

I found this out, to my horror, at the tender age of four or so, while sitting on the edge of the wombat enclosure at my local conservation park enjoying a peanut butter sandwich. I was perched there, unaware that I was just moments from a brush with death, when suddenly I was viciously set upon by one of these nefarious creatures, which swiped mightily at me with its powerful claws and vicious teeth, savaging my four-year-old buttocks and seemingly trying to drag me back into its monstrous lair to be consumed whole by it and its terrible brood. I was only saved by the lightning intervention of my ever-vigilant parents, and thankfully the beast slunk off to await easier, less wary prey, but my buttocks have never recovered, a constant reminder of the cruel, blood-thirsty, merciless nature of this most horrible of monsters.

I'm sure the wombatnip that I'd inadvertently left in my back pocket had nothing to do with it.

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