Writers, Know Your Bites

A while ago, I read someone’s manuscript describing the protagonist being dive-bombed and pecked by a crow. The mood promised shades of Hitchcock’s The Birds until the medics arrived. They took a look at the screaming woman’s wounds and diagnosed them at self-inflicted cuts. There went my suspension of disbelief. So I decided to share my thoughts on bites and what one might include to make the scene believable.

You see, any medic worth his license can tell the difference between stabbing and a bite by the pattern of the wound. What’s more, the medic can figure out what did the biting. Stabbings and cutting leave straight gashes and lacerations, and also internal injuries because they’re deeper than they’re wide (See image below left. The knife travels in a straight line. Mutilation leaves patterned lines.

People dealing with City of Brotherly Death's zombies must know their bites. Bites from birds and other animals may require rabies injections, but that didn’t come up in the story. Some birds can’t exert enough force to break the skin. Birds of prey like hawks, eagles, etc. can put a bad hurt on you. They dive at people and leave a jagged wound with or without bleeding, like the one directly below. Their claws can rip fresh wounds with lightning speed. Bird bites also carry the risk of infection.

People dealing with City of Brotherly Death's zombies must know their bites.A lot’s been said about shark attacks, but they’re not evil creatures that look for humans to eat. Most times, a shark might bite, drag the human through water, and then let go; it has mistaken the human for something it usually eats. In any case, the shark’s bite will leave a pie-shaped wound – perhaps broken bones in addition to tears in the skin or severed limbs. The damage can be fatal.

Bug bites vary depending on the type and whether or not they’re poisonous. A spider bite will leave a faint red mark, perhaps a blister, which will then loosen to form a deep boil like the one below.

People dealing with zombies in City of Brotherly Death must know their bites.

Citizens of City of Brotherly Death, know your bites!Finally, the zombie bite – the worst kind, for the victim will get infected and become undead. Zombies do more damage to the skin than you might think because they don’t feel pain. They won’t care about how hard they bite or indulge any hang-ups about damaging their teeth. As it is, the human jaw can generate 180 psi. We’re capable of tearing flesh and biting off the nose/ear of other people. Zombies exert twice as much force, and if they’ve been reanimated for a long time, the teeth may be jagged and sharp. Note the damage in figures to left and below right.

Citizens of City of Brotherly Death, know your bites!The legs and arms tend to be most vulnerable – it’s natural for a person to throw his arms over his face to ward off attackers. With zombies, this won’t work.  Best defense is to fight or run like hell. Body armor for the hands and feet come to mind. That and a great headshot.

About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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  1. Barbara, Great article. Then there is this kind of bite: ex-wife’s boyfriend’s Mynah bird takes chunk out of my ear,the flowing blood reminding me that divorce needn’t be a bad thing. Lanny

  2. Joseph J. Patchen

    Marvelous article. I am teaching writing now and I always tell my students that all fiction needs that basis in reality. You need to do research to help make it believable. Great article.

  3. Birds are certainly a curiosity. In the Army once, we had to set up a check point in the jungle. Unfortunately, to our dismay it was right under a nest, and the bird enjoyed diving on the men posted at the check point. To save them from bodily harm, we moved the check point down the road a ways (G). Thankfully, we didn’t have any injuries. We didn’t want tp bother the medics (ha).

  4. Very informative… Though, as a paranormal researcher, I might state that the bites referred to in the last one are just human bites… Contrary to Hollywood stereotypes, the true VooDoo “Zombie” is actually usually a living person made to feel/appear “dead.” They don’t actually have any interest in consuming human flesh or brains, unless they actually fall into the Revenant Vampire category. 😉 Just sayin’ … Otherwise, I really like all your info on different types of animal bites, as I, too, tend to get highly annoyed by lack of research in fiction. 🙂

  5. I tend to think of bites as coming from creatures with teeth. Many bird species don’t have teeth. Beaks, however, can as you say do damage.

    In spring every year at Bathurst in central NSW there are magpie attacks. Magpies protecting nests swoop down on passerby humans. There is the story also that they are gathering human hair for nesting purposes but I believe this to be a local myth. They can and sometimes do, however, come away with human hair. They dive bomb, peck and retreat. Similar I suppose to what happens in some though not all of the scenes in The Birds.

    Generally speaking it is one or two birds on the attack at a time. I’ve seen it happen. I have also been attacked.

    This takes me back to the 1980s when I was living in Bathurst. College students there took some interesting options in protecting themselves. Some carried umbrellas. Some had hats on with sunglasses positioned toward the back of the head to confuse the birds. One young lady from India had a pith helmet. One day I saw a bird bounce off it.

    Magpies don’t always break the skin when they do go for your head. In my case the bird didn’t but in other cases at the time I was attacked there were head wounds. I remember some people who had wounds getting shots against tetanus. I can’t remember any shots against rabbis. I know there are shots against rabbis if bitten by a bat or flying fox. In any event, if someone comes into a local doctor’s practice in Bathurst or Orange in spring time with head or possibly hand wounds magpies will be the first suspects. As you say birds don’t usually attack humans without a reason or out of season and any local medic would definitely know a wound given to someone from a bird as opposed to something self-inflicted. And yes as you say, birds if they wound don’t leave neat cuts. Magpies for example are in a frenzy to hit and then get away. No time to be neat.

    • The article I read on birds gave upbrellas and hats with eyes painted on them as a great way to avoid being dive-bombed. Sometimes the beaks can do as much damage as a tooth. Stay safe. Barbara of the Balloons 🙂

      • The idea of eyes being painted on hats or sunglasses worn backwards as if you have two sets of eyes comes from the notion that the birds won’t attack if they think you are keeping a close eye on them. I don’t believe this really works. The umbrellas do and certainly the pith helmet. Yes, well, beaks can do as much even more damage than teeth.

  6. Very informative article, Barbara. Zombies are the worst, by far!

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