Who was the first human to pester a swan, pick up a poison dart frog, or cuddle a kangaroo? That name has been lost in prehistory, but the ill-advised tradition continues. Nearly daily we get reports of humans getting the business end of what, at first blush, appear to be oversized pets.
First up: The swan. This migratory water bird has a call that says "beat it!" that, if unheeded, can lead to aggressive behavior. Item: In 2008, Queen Elizabeth wrote a letter of apology to a 6-year-old girl who was pecked by the small, jagged teeth of a swan at Buckingham Palace.
Dolphins appear friendly to humans, helpful and familiar with water ... so they'd be perfect assistants in childbirth, no? In a word: No. Despite a New Age trend where you invite a dolphin to the big event, "birthing a child in seawater next to a wild, carnivorous mammal is not a good idea," posits our own Benjamin Radford. Word to the wise.
Meerkats have one of the animal kingdom's most efficient security operations. A sentinel stands guard, watching for any potential threats. Should an intruder approach, an entire clan -- from elderly grandmas to younger dads -- mob the unwelcome visitor.
Mud-slinging in human political contests may have an evolutionary analogue in a much nastier behavior of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Instead of mud, chimps fling feces at rivals and threats. However, unlike political mud-slinging, making a long-range weapon out of waste may be a sign of better communication ability in chimps. Emory University primatologists say that, in chimps, throwing poo may be a form of self-expression.
Earlier this year an Australian politician was mugged by a kangaroo while on a morning jog in the capital city, Canberra. He was left with deep scratches and bruising on his leg after the encounter with the bounding marsupial.
And while kangaroos are natural boxers, it's not the paws you have to worry about: Their kicks can be deadly.
A fisherman in the Brest region of Belarus wanted to take a photo with a beaver, which instead bit him. The bite severed an artery, killing the man.
"People have lost fingers – that's the worst I've come across," the deputy head of Brest's environmental protection committee told The Guardian. "The beaver is not normally aggressive, but it does have big teeth and immensely powerful jaws; it can cut down a tree three feet wide."
Hippos come with intimidating size, but their appearance is almost cartoon-like and friendly. Not so, says a man who was swallowed by a hippo -- but survived -- in Zimbabwe. The man, a river guide, would have died if not for the efforts of a medical team training nearby.
This summer, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing admitted he entered a panda cage at a Paris Zoo, where his daughter was working at the time. The panda promptly lept on him and had to be pulled off by zoo workers.
"Although they are vegetarian bears, obviously at the end of the day pandas are still very powerful and muscular bears with teeth and claws to match," Iain Valentine, director of giant pandas at the zoo, told the BBC. "Although not particularly aggressive by nature, pandas do have this potential and are very territorial animals."
The poison dart frog's bright colors are a warning to keep away -- the frog excretes toxins through its skin. If injected or ingested, a single drop of the poison can be fatal. Yet the toxins are also an important ingredient in biomedical research leading to new treatments.
More dangerous than deer attacks -- by far -- are deer collisions with cars. In the United States more than a million deer-auto collisions occur each year, causing about 200 deaths.
Seemingly the most deadly animal on this list, polar bear attacks are, in reality, incredibly rare. The animals certainly have the means to kill -- and eat -- a human and without any trouble. But in all of recorded Russian history, polar bears have killed only 19 people, according to Polar Bears International. In the United States and Canada, over the last 30 years, eight people have died in polar bear attacks.
While out on a fishing trip near Plains, Ga., former President Jimmy Carter was approached by what was described as a menacing swamp rabbit. Carter shooed away the rabbit with his oar.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter didn't need any more bad publicity. But he got it anyway. During a fishing trip in Georgia, a swimming rabbit approached his boat. The president shooed the rabbit away with a paddle, unfortunately in sight of an AP photographer who later released a photo of the wee beasite, later dubbed the "killer rabbit."