Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Taryn. Taryn Wonders, “Why are foxes always depicted as evil and sly?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Taryn!

Do you know about the snake in the story of Adam and Eve? How about the giant snake named Nagini from the Harry Potter stories? Surely you’ve heard of all the snakes writhing from the top of Medusa’s head. 

People tell a lot of stories that give snakes a bad reputation. And for good reason! They’re creepy villains any kid can fear. And snakes aren’t the only ones. Many animals seem to be stereotyped as villains.

Cats both large and small are often portrayed as villainous. There’s Scar from “The Lion King,” of course. And don’t forget Shere Khan from “The Jungle Book.” Even Si and Am from “Lady and the Tramp” make a formidable pair. 

Rats are another common choice for animal villains. There’s Samuel Whiskers, who rolled Tom Kitten into a pudding. And who could forget Professor Ratigan from “The Great Mouse Detective”? Perhaps the evilest of them all, though, is Jenner from “The Secret of NIMH.”

There are plenty of other noteworthy animal villains, of course. There’s the giant shark in “Jaws” and the spider Shelob in The Lord of the Rings. Don’t forget the eels  Flotsam and Jetsam in “The Little Mermaid.” Even man’s best friend plays the villain from time to time. Stephen King’s Cujo and the wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” are testaments to that.

But why do people cast certain animals as the villain more often than others? A lot of it has to do with which animals people are most likely to fear. A 2019 study found that snakes and spiders were the most feared creatures in the world. Other animals on the list included rats and dogs.

There’s even evidence to suggest that human fear of spiders and snakes is innate. That means it’s a natural fear that many people are born with. Some experts explain this as the result of millions of years of human evolution. Early humans learned that bites from spiders and snakes could result in illness or even death. As a result, fear of these animals was passed down to future humans as a defense mechanism.

What about all the rat villains out there? Many people think there’s a bit of a gross factor when it comes to rats. Just looking at them can make some squeamish! And, of course, rats and other rodents do pose a threat of their own. They’ve invaded people’s homes in search of food for millennia. For a long time, people associated them with the Black Death

So, it makes sense that these animals would pop up as storybook villains pretty often. However, some might say it’s just as common for many of these animals to appear as good guys. Take the cat for example. Sure, Scar is evil. But what about Simba and Nala? And of course, many rats are bad guys, but don’t forget about loveable Remy in “Ratatouille”!

Even snakes aren’t always bad. In most versions of “The Jungle Book,” the python Kaa, while kind of creepy, is on Mowgli’s side. And of course, our canine friends are good guys far more often than they’re villains. Doug from “Up” and Chief and Copper of “The Fox and the Hound” are just a few examples.

What other famous animal villains or heroes can you think of? Would you cast a snake as a villain, or would you be more likely to choose a cat? With the right amount of imagination, any animal could be a villain—or a hero!

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