On Thursday, the search continued for the owner of a five-foot-long boa that slithered out of a San Diego toilet earlier this week. (You can see video of the snake below.) In 2013, Slate’s Forrest Wickman compiled a history of the myths—and realities—of toilet-based animal attacks. The article is reprinted below.
A man’s penis was bitten by a snake hiding in a toilet on Friday. According to an article in the Times of Israel, the man was sitting on the john when he was bitten and then “ran from the room in horror.” The man was rushed to the hospital where he was treated for “minor injuries,” but tests found that the snake was not venomous. Have there been other attacks like this before?
More than you want to know. While there are multiple urban legends surrounding toilet-based animal attacks, and they are rare, several people have been known to have been bitten by animals while sitting down on the toilet. And not just by snakes.
One of the most well-known bathroom assailants is the rat. A 1999 article in the Richmond Times Dispatch (available in the Nexis news database) reported that a Petersburg, Va., woman was sitting down on the toilet when a rat “jumped up out the commode” and bit her. The rat “apparently had crawled through city sewer lines,” according to the paper, and would not let go. While a local health official said “this is the first I’ve heard of anybody being bitten by a rat while on the toilet,” it’s not the only such incident. As reported by This Is Local London, 55-year-old Maxine Killingback was sitting on the toilet when she was bitten by a rat that was trying to get out. She described the rat as “a big, black one, seven or eight inches long,” and said she weighed down the toilet lid to stop other rats that were trying to get out.
It’s not always clear how rats get into the toilets in the first place; some may sneak into the house through other means and only later find themselves stuck in the toilet. But, as several reports from exterminators have attested, it’s not uncommon for rats to come up through the pipes. According to a thorough examination of the subject fromThe Straight Dope, it depends on the pipes: While rats cannot climb up pipes that are very steep or vertical for more than a few feet—the pipes are too slippery—pipes leading to ground floor or basement bathrooms often run horizontal, downward, or at gradual angles, making them easy for rats to crawl through, like a hamster throughhamster tubes. Top-floor apartments may also be vulnerable to this method of entry: One janitor who spoke to The Straight Dope said that every rat he’s ever encountered in a toilet has been in a top-floor apartment, leading him to deduce that they climb into the soil pipes via the roof before sliding down into the toilet bowl.
Some have noticed rats coming up through the toilet on a regular basis, and rats are common enough in the toilet bowls of one Seattle-area sewer system that the local government has posted a four-step method for dispatching the rodents:
- Stay Calm!
- Keep the lid down so that it is unable to jump out.
- Squirt some liquid dish soap in the toilet to help break the surface tension of the water. The soap degreases the oils on the rat’s fur so it can not stay afloat in the water.
- Flush the toilet! The rat will usually go back down the drain the same way it came up. You may need to flush multiple times.
Snakes, too, have attacked from toilet bowls before. According to a 1993 article in Singapore newspaper The Straits Times, headlined “Former National Athlete Bitten by Snake in Toilet,” a former shot-put champion was bitten on the testicles by an 8-foot python while sitting down to relieve himself. The bite was not poisonous, but the 43-year-old man was taken to the hospital to receive stitches.
I could go on. In 2011, a woman whose toilet wouldn’t flush was surprised when a black snake slithered out of it, revealing itself to be the source of the clog. “I saw it, but I didn’t want to believe it,” she said. “It kept coming out.”
Snakes and rats seem to be the most common attackers—at least as reported in the media—but they’re not the only animals that have been found lurking in the toilet bowl. Recent headlines have included “Squirrel Rescued from Toilet by Goose” (the squirrel in question was discovered by businessman Duncan Goose) and “There’s a Squirrel in My Toilet,” from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Even CNN reported on one such hairy encounter.
There’s also a long series of rumors about a species of “toilet spider” that likes to lurk beneath toilet seats—the rumors even made the New York Times, and there’s an apparently doctored video on YouTube with more than 5 million views. But there is no such thing as the “butt spider” or arachnius gluteus. That’s one creature, at least, that no one has to worry about.