Recently, a man at a Starbucks in San Antonio, Texas, went to the bathroom and found himself face-to-face with a Texas rat snake slithering on the toilet seat. The man was unharmed, and the fanged reptile retreated to the dark abyss of the sewer system. But just last month, in Israel, a 35-year-old man was sitting on the toilet when a snake lunged at his genitals and bit his penis. The snake was later found to not be venomous (but that doesn't make it any less traumatizing).
Venomous or not, the toilet-snake phobia has been dismissed by most as folk legend, on par with the boogeyman. But toilet snakes are real, even in Florida. Maybe especially in Florida.
Closer to home, in 2005, a Jacksonville woman was sitting on the toilet when an adult-sized water moccasin, hiding in the pipes, emerged to bite her upper thigh. Since water moccasins are venomous, the woman was rushed to hospital and given an antivenin. After three days, she was able to return home, undoubtedly shaken from the toilet fiasco.
The most unsettling part about these toilet-snake attacks is that many of the snakes retreat back to the sewer pipes, where we are completely, 100 percent certain they mate with each other, creating a superbreed of snake specializing in toilet ambush -- creeping up to bite your exposed, fleshy behind the next time you sit before looking.
Florida, with its swamps and humidity, is a breeding ground for snakes. While invasive pythons are generally too big to fit inside plumbing pipes (they'll just eat your dog if you leave him outside unattended), there are venomous and nonvenomous snakes slithering around. It's important to differentiate: Black racers and ring snakes are nonvenomous. That doesn't make seeing one in your toilet any less scary, but at least you don't have a closing window of time to make it to the hospital for antivenin.
The coral snake and the milk snake look freakishly alike with their red, yellow, and black stripes. The former is venomous, and the latter isn't. But by the time you get close enough to distinguish, it'll probably be too late, so avoid all red, yellow, and black snakes in your toilet -- or, really, anywhere. But especially in your toilet.
Water moccasins and copperhead snakes lurk in water, making toilets either at home or in restaurants an ideal host -- especially if there are rodents running around in the sewers too. Rattlesnakes are a problem too, but you probably won't see one in your toilet anytime soon; they prefer dry land.
So next time you see a cockroach sprint across the restaurant floor or a rat scratching outside a dumpster, take a breath and appreciate that it at least isn't a toilet snake. And remember: Always look before you squat.