EXPLAINER: Answering questions about the news

What creatures might be lurking in a toilet?

A scene from a YouTube video titled Snake in the Toilet. Such incidents are rare, but they do happen. But don’t worry about the so-called “butt spider’’ — it’s a myth. 
Slate.com

A scene from a YouTube video titled Snake in the Toilet. Such incidents are rare, but they do happen. But don’t worry about the so-called “butt spider’’ — it’s a myth. Slate.com

Q: An Israeli man's penis was bitten by a snake hiding in a toilet last Friday. According to the Times of Israel, the man was rushed to a hospital where he was treated for "minor injuries," but tests found that the snake was not venomous. Have there been other attacks like this?

A: 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 reported that a Petersburg, Va., woman was sitting down on the toilet when a rat "jumped up out the commode" and bit her. In 2008, as reported by ThisIsLocalLondon.co, a 55-year-old British woman was sitting on the toilet when she was bitten by a rat. 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; some may sneak into the house through other means and only later find themselves stuck in the toilet. But exterminators say it's not uncommon for rats to come up through the pipes.

According to a thorough examination of the subject from The 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, 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 through hamster tubes.

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. According to a 1993 article in Singapore newspaper Straits Times, 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.

Snakes and rats are 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 a businessman named Duncan Goose in Malawi) and "There's a Squirrel in My Toilet," from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

There's also a long series of rumors about a species of "toilet spider" that likes to lurk beneath toilet seats — 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.

What creatures might be lurking in a toilet? 07/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 11:31am]

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