Most Harrowing Experience(s) Ever with Organisms

Even though many of us now use iNaturalist, this was not always the case. People may or may not have interacted with numerous organisms in less than cordial manner, either with the organism mis-behaving toward you, or the other way around. For me, I am absolutely terrified of dogs. Why? Come sit by the proverbial campfire…

When I was younger, I liked to do gardening. I would still like to do gardening, but there is not much space in the apartment where I currently live. Anyway, I believe it was during my first, or was it the second, year of college when my family lived in Illinois. The backyard of the house was impressively large. There were Pear, Peach, and Chestnut Trees in the back along the fence. Around the sides and the back of the house, there were bushes and small pointed trees of Arbor Vitae. To the right side of the garage, and right before the backyard patio, there was a small area demarcated with a square stone path. It was here, in this small area, where I gardened. My father also like gardening, but he was too busy with this job to do any of it.

One fine morning, on a sunny day during the weekends, I was watering the garden as always. The San Marzano Tomato Plants were growing like gangbusters; their secondary branches were going all over the place in such a way that I had to use all of the plant scaffolds just to hold the branches up. There was also various Capsicum plants, Cilantro, Poblano, and Zucchini plants. We had just received a special variety of Mint from one of my Mother’s Uncle’s Wife - “Tall Nanu” - and that was also planted; it was not doing well. Perhaps it was a portend of what was to come.

All I heard was the gushing sound of water coming out from the garden hose. After a good and healthy man-made rainfall, I usually turn off the water spout. I turned it counter-clockwise to turn off of the water, and then proceeded to get rid of any pesky weeds. Since there is a small fence made with mesh, I have to go onto the stone path to go around the small garden. From this side, I was able to see part of the neighborhood in-between the houses. And it was here that the white dog of “doom” was seen.

Now to be clear, dogs were found all over the neighborhood. I never understood America’s obsession with pets. Perhaps, indirectly, due to the obsession partially created by the pet industry to make people think pets are like “family”, it led to the mistake of the French Poodles’ owner carelessly letting it wander outside without a leash. Even before it started to run toward me, from my gander at it, it was a big dog. Unfortunately, I would have the opportunity to see it close-and-personal. As soon as I saw that the dog was already on my family’s front lawn, I felt dread. I saw gnarly and pointed teeth. I heard it growling. And I ran screaming.

Was it a mistake to run? Probably. Even if I did not, would I have been still scared for my life? Definitely. I ran as fast as I could, but as anyone who has animals knows, humans are utterly pathetic compared to other animals in terms of raw speed and strength. I remember running completely around the house at least once. I remember feeling the dog’s breath on my back. It felt so close that I it could have bitten me. I was fortunate to be able to make into the garage and close the door. This sound seemed to stop the dog in its tracks.

With my heart racing and my legs shaking, I felt like I wanted to cry. I thought for sure that I was going to be bitten, maimed, or worse, dead. I remember hiding behind my dad as he opened the garage door. It was here that we truly saw the size of the French Poodle; it was at least three feet tall. My father was ballistic. If my father had a gun, he would have absolutely shot that dog in the face.

To this day, I vaguely remember the rest of the experience. It is still a bit fuzzy, probably from the trauma. I think there was a altercation between my father and the neighbor, but I am not sure. I never, ever, want to go near any dog again. I do not care how cute or small it looks like. Animals, like people, are vicious creatures if provoked. I still get jump scares when I look at pictures of dogs; I nearly felt like running after encountering a wolf in my Minecraft world.

:sob: :scream: :persevere: :sweat:


For me, it has to be getting dive-bombed by a Sharp Shined Hawk. I live not far from a nature preserve, and I was walking one day in mid-winter. There was snow on the ground and in the distance, I saw a huge red spot and went to investigate. This is where I was an idiot; I went to the red spot and found a part of a dead rabbit, so I started looking around for the tracks of what killed it instead of looking up at the tree. I had no idea that there was a Sharp Shin nest right above my head, but when I heard a wing beat, I looked up a few seconds too late and saw a 5 pound Sharp Shined Hawk diving me. The thing smashed into me and I got a concussion and 10 stitches. Not fun at all, but my fault nonetheless. See you out there!


Being bitten by louse flies more than once, they’re elusive and extremely hard to kill, so I even evaded going to the forest for a couple of months, because I had almost panic attacks as every itch on my head I though it was a fly (and honestly sometimes it was one!). Once it tried to attack me in my bathroom but got into the water, it means it got on my head there first! I better pet some stray dogs which are often the kindest if out of packs (I was attacked by pack when I was 6 and was lazy to go around their territory with my then puppy, but I never felt feared of dogs). Also some people said these flies can’t bite through human skin, hell no, they do that easily (at least bigger, mammal-oriented species)


When I was down at FSU, I would make weekend trips to Alligator Point and get my fill of fishing in. The water there is very muddy, with visibility of about maybe six inches, so the kinds of fish there are the ones that rely on smell and taste to get around. This happens to include sea catfish, stingrays, and sharks. I’ve had plenty of “harrowing experiences” with all three, but one from November 2018 still sticks out in my mind.

I had caught a forty-pound redfish there the week before which at that time was my personal best, so I went out there at the same time with the same bait and setup. It was real slow that day and my bait, a chunk of dead mullet, had been sitting out there for about two hours. I was getting ready to think about packing up when something slammed my rod down.

A fifteen-minute fight later and a six-foot sandbar shark of about 150 lbs was thrashing on the beach. I was in complete shock. Not only was it the biggest fish of my life but it was also the biggest shark of my life by about 140 lbs. I had only handled “greenies,” or young highly active sharks before, and now here was a scenario I had only seen on YouTube videos featuring professional shark anglers who fight them for a living.

Naturally, I threw all caution and common sense out the window and, using only a pair of pliers, reached inside the shark’s mouth and unhooked it. God must have been holding its jaws open that day because I could have very easily lost my hand if it felt so inclined. Then, just like all those videos I had seen before, I dragged the shark back into the surf, “walked” it through the water, and watched it swim off healthy and free.

The entire experience, from catching bait to releasing the shark, can be seen in this video here.


For a few months after college, I was an intern with the California Condor Recovery Program. We were radio-tracking condors in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary (southern California) when one of the transmitters started sounding really stationary, which can be a sign that the condor is sick or dead, or has lost its transmitter. I hiked way back into the mountains following the signal of transmitter.

I carried a couple of days of food in a bear-tight canister, and was immediately glad for the extra weight when I started seeing bear tracks all over the place. I climbed up an old fire tower on top of one of the ridges to get a look around, and when I came down 15 minutes later there were bear tracks on top of my footprints approaching the tower.

That night, when it was time to camp I had lost the condor’s signal entirely. I ate a quick dinner under the weird melted-looking upright rocks, then put every scrap of food and wrappers in the canister, climbed part way up one cliff, and jammed the canister between two rocks. Then I climbed part way up a different cliff to a large rock with a cozy overhanging roof where I found signs of people camping long before. Not wanting to roll off in the night, I put out my mat and sleeping bag all the way back under the overhang, put my headlamp strap around my arm so I’d be able to find it in the night, and tried to go to sleep.

It was incredibly quiet there, except the occasional airplane high overhead, and distant crickets and frogs. As I lay watching the stars, I heard a noise well below me that I couldn’t place, but as it came up the rock face toward me the stars all went out all at once. I realized then that the sound was a large animal sniffing, the blackness was a large animal on the ledge just outside my little overhang, and that the only animal large enough to completely block the opening was a bear.

The sniffing got louder, and so did the pounding of my heart inside my sleeping bag. I told my hand to pick up my headlamp, still hanging on my other arm, and it did not move. I tried again, but was literally scared stiff, I couldn’t move at all. After what seemed a long time, but was probably a few seconds, the stars came back, and the sniffing sound was gone. I did not sleep that night.

As the sun rose, I saw my large water bottle which had been right next to my head. The water had run out through four large puncture holes. I packed up my stuff and went looking for my bear canister. It was not where I had left it. I found it much further down slope, in a ditch full of poison oak, with claw and tooth marks on it, but still closed. Having no water, I didn’t bother eating breakfast, just started hiking out. I was thoroughly dehydrated, hungry, tired, and annoyed with myself by that afternoon when I got back to my colleagues, to learn that the condor in question was now perched in the tree right behind the old ranch house where we interns lived.

I am very lucky that our black bears are not interested in eating human.


Being held at gunpoint by a Homo sapiens var. mugger

I can’t think of any harrowing experiences with non-human animals


I’ve been bluff-charged by a Black Bear once, but I think my most harrowing experience was with an animal that wasn’t there. I was working on a field job in Northern Arizona, searching for passerine nests in pine-fir forest. I walked under a snag leaning against another tree, and distinctly heard a growl directly over my head! My only thought was Mountain Lion, and I was sure this was the end. After about 4 repetitions of the growl, I finally realized why I was still alive – the “growl” was the sound of the snag rubbing against the tree in the wind! That was the only time I’ve experienced the “weak in the knees” feeling, to the point that I had to sit down for a few moments…


Since you said organisms…I was working down in southern Nevada and crossing a steep slope when my foot slipped on the gravel and I went sliding down into the loving embrace of a Mojave yucca. They definitely earn their other common name: Spanish dagger. It was a long hike back to the car with several puncture wounds in my left leg and scrapes on the right one.


Well, being chased by a hippo while canoeing was exciting as was being chased by a Cape cobra (or whatever they’re called these days). Having our tent ripped to shreds by a black bear would have been harrowing except we weren’t actually in the tent at the time so it was just really annoying. The time that we were working up the Linyanti and the local guys I was with refused to put up a tent and insisted that we just sleep on straw mats around the fire because it was the dry season and malaria wouldn’t be an issue got interesting when what sounded like three lions started calling back and forth. At least that persuaded everybody to take turns keeping the fire going and sitting up with a .375 round chambered. About an hour into the first watch a young bull Cape buffalo charged through the camp, presumably to get away from the lions. Invigorating stuff.

My most harrowing experience with organisms, by a wide margin, was the second time I got malaria. Plasmodium falciparum and a mosquito (presumably Anopheles sp.) had me so sick that the technicians who were assigned to take me to hospital thought I had died. At the point where I was still conscious but not very coherent I desperately needed to go to the latrine but was afraid to move because I knew I’d vomit. That mattress had to be thrown out. So, yes, harrowing.


This was my first date with my husband. I barely knew him, as we’d just met recently at party given by my BFF (yes we are still friends 48 years on). My mom invited a bunch of my old college friends to go to visit Año Nuevo, the elephant seal beach. Last minute, I invited my friend’s nice co-worker to come along.

I’d never seen anything like this Elephant seal colony — hundreds of behemoths* lolling all around us.

We were so ignorant! (This was about 1978 before the days of controlled access and docent led hikes. )

Anyhoo, chatting each other up Dave and I must have wandered too close to a dozing bull and his harem.

That bull suddenly heaved up and chased after us! Lemme tell you they are fast! And, man, it was ~hard~ to run in the soft sand! when I glanced over my shoulder, it looked like a 2-story building looming over us. All he really had to do to crush us was flop forward! Fortunately for us, he tired of the chase and let us go. Whew!

*The huge male northern elephant seal typically weighs 1,500–2,300 kg (3,300–5,100 lb) and measures 4–5 m (13–16 ft), although some males can weigh up to 3,700 kg (8,200 lb).

Dis is what I’m talking about:Elephant seal attacks car

Hopefully, he’s telling her to back off!


I’ve been grabbed by a bear, attacked by a pig-tailed macaque, swatted at by a jaguar, surrounded by a herd of peccaries (which doesn’t sound dangerous, but it can be), struck at by rattlesnakes, nearly stepped on a cobra on my office stairs, as well as threatened by dogs in various places. Honestly the worst was probably being attacked by geese as a little kid. Geese can be vicious.

The bear incident was actually kind of funny, we were camping up in a relatively remote part of the Northern California mountains and a black bear came into camp to investigate. Eventually it started pawing at the tent and grabbed my shoulder through the fabric. I shouted at it and punched it hard and it ran off… temporarily. It came back later, opened the bottom of the tent, and fumbled inside, pulling our boots out of the tent. On the whole it was more amusing that harrowing though. Definitely exciting.

The pig-tailed macaque was just last year, we were working with the local park to move an aggressive male to a rescue enter and it escaped from the are where the park was holding it. It was a non-native one that needed to be taken back to the part of the country it belongs in. We were trying to combination bribe and nudge it back to the the enclosure when it turned ad leaped at my face. Fortunately I’d picked up a leafy branch earlier and was able to fend it off. If I hadn’t had that with me I would have been pretty badly injured by it.

In Hong Kong my then girlfriend and I were exploring an area near a small temple and were surrounded by a pack of feral dogs, maybe 20 strong. We got our backs to the wall and edged along it as the pack ringed us closer and closer. This went on for 10 or 15 minutes as we made our way back to a more trafficked area, at which point the dogs fled.

In any event, I’ve been fortunate in that none of the experiences I’ve had has left me with a bad feeling or fear of the animals in question.


For me it’s probably getting stung by a wasp. I was rolling a log and felt a sharp pain on my hand, and I knew what had happened immediately, though I hadn’t been stung in years. The sting wasn’t that bad; the pain went away within an hour or two and I had no allergic reaction. I didn’t even get a good look at the wasp but I think it was an Eastern Yellowjacket. I’m honestly surprised I hadn’t been stung sooner since I move so many rotting logs that would be great places for wasp nests.
The only reason it was that bad was because it came completely out of the blue with no warning. Now, about 6 months later, I still get nervous moving large logs.


Haven’t had many, yet. Once I swam out a tad bit too far in the gulf, apparently there was something “huge and black” under the water’s surface as seen by my mother. Apparently I scared it and it put up a huge dust cloud, still have no idea what it was, but was pretty scary. As for actual “harrowing” experiences, I’ve been in the midst of cattle stampedes on three occasions, the first one after inexperienced me wanted to see an “abandoned” calf in the middle of a field, no cows nearby, so I walked over to it, then I heard a very loud “MURRRR” and looked behind me. Never ran so fast in my life. Quickest I’ve ever gotten over a fence too. Lol! Also when I was a child, stood in the center of a huge ant mound. 3 seconds later my entire waist was black and moving. Screamed, etc, you know the drill. Weird thing was, didn’t get stung at all. It was as big as a large fire ant mound but it turned out to be really small black ants, so I’m still a little confused about that part.
Gonna leave an honorable mention here: Mosquitoes


I have a mild fear of wasps. I was at a Boy Scout camp, and was tracking a frog through the bush. I felt a branch poke me, brushed it away, and it turned out to be wasps. A whole bunch of them - I must have walked over a nest. Took me a few years to get over it, but still don’t trust them!


It’s the little things that get me, in particular young ticks. I was checking out a powerline grassland in northern Virginia for uncommon grassland plants and ended up having my legs swarmed in baby ticks.
Thankfully I keep a roll of duct tape in my car!


My most harrowing experience was being stalked by a human on a trail at Caddo Lake. My experiences with non-human animals have been much less dangerous and common, like being chased and bitten by park geese who want me to feed them.


For me, it was an experience far more harrowing than the others in this thread. It was getting attacked by a Mourning Cloak butterfly. I had to fend it off with my big lens, which it repeatedly tried to land on in order to launch a physical attack. I was able to document the drama by holding it off with my big lens in my right hand, while whipping out my phone and taking a shot with my left hand as it reeled around for another run at me. Eventually, I was able to flee the scene. Here’s the proof of my ordeal.


My most worrisome (in retrospect) encounter was while sleeping “under the stars” (i.e., no tent) in the White Mountains of Nevada. I woke up at dawn, looked about, and found a male cougar (Puma concolor) sitting about 20 feet away looking at me with its tail twitching, with a kind of “breakfast?” look on its face. I was surprisingly calm, stood up inside my big blue down sleeping bag so I didn’t look very edible, and apologized to it for being in its home without permission. After a bit, it stood up and sauntered nobly away. I picked up my gear and walked away backwards, keeping the sleeping bag wrapped around me. I guess it wasn’t all that hungry that day.


Yes, you are right. Humans are the most dangerous and most scary.


Mugger is an ecotype.