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When Animals Fight Each Other, Do They Go for the Balls?

Never fuck with llamas — they have special teeth just for nutsac removal

There’s the Constitution, the Magna Carta, the Ten Commandments, the Code of Hammurabi and many other important historical rule-declaring documents, yet none of them is as universal or integral to the fabric of civilization as “The Code.” The Code, of course, is the universal understanding between men to not kick each other in the testicles. So understood is The Code that it needn’t have been laid out in these aforementioned documents. Moses didn’t have to waste any time carving, “No man shalt kick another man in the knackers” on his stone tablet because it was a given — that’s already understood, Moses, talk instead about thy neighbor’s smokin’ hot wife. 

But despite The Code being ubiquitous among humankind, I don’t know if it extends to the animal kingdom. When lions face off to protect their pride, are they going for the Simbas? And if they’re not going for the balls, why aren’t they going for the balls? Is it The Code? Or are there other factors to consider? 

First, I think it makes sense to be sure that animal balls are as sensitive as people balls (and therefore worthwhile targets). I couldn’t find a study to conclusively prove this, but I did find lots of wincing-ly relatable circumstantial evidence, like this bear who got whipped in the nuts with a wire:

And this little baby monkey who keeps getting bit on the balls by his older brother:

And this kitten who seemingly accidentally bit a dog’s balls:

So, assuming dudes’ balls are sensitive no matter the species, let’s examine apes and monkeys first to see if, like that asshole monkey above, they’re regularly targeting the testes. Given how ruthless some primates are known to be, I figured this would be common, but to my surprise, primatologist Scott A. Suarez tells me that he hasn’t seen much nut-grabbery in his years studying primates. “Generally, male primates fight over females, and there are two broad types of competition — between-group competition and within-group competition,” Suarez says. For within-group confrontations, primates aren’t usually trying to hurt each other too bad. It’s more about a display of force to establish a pecking order. 

For fighting between groups, things are much more aggressive — even, sometimes, to the point of murder — but even then, Suarez says that he hasn’t seen that much in terms of testicle attacks. “The most serious injuries are around the upper part of the body, especially the face,” he explains.

Is that because of The Code? 

Suarez doubts it and says it’s more a matter of positioning. “When males are fighting, they’re facing each other and they’re trying to bite and slash. Most injuries occur up top simply because it’s easier to get to,” Suarez says. And though apes are semi-upright, he explains that they’re usually on their knuckles with their hips closer to the ground, which makes the balls a bit harder to get to.

That said, targeting the balls isn’t unheard of in primates. In addition to that ball-biter above, Suarez cites a case recorded by Jane Goodall where one chimpanzee was killed by several others from another group and, among the remains of the dead chimp, was a ripped-off testicle. There are also some primate-on-human attacks where this has happened: For example, in 2005 a man was mauled by a chimp who bit off his nose and mauled his testicles. In 2013, a monkey in a Chinese zoo attacked a baby who was getting his diaper changed, ripping off and eating his testicle. So primates may not always be specifically targeting testicles, but they also won’t pass up the opportunity to grab or mangle some low-hanging fruit.

For fully quadrupedal animals, it seems that positioning is once again an issue, as the balls are usually hard to reach, especially in head-to-head fights. As lion expert Craig Packer tells me, “I’ve studied fighting in African lions, and we didn’t find any evidence that they target each other’s genitalia. Lions mostly try to cripple their opponent, biting them on the back or leg — this effectively eliminates them as competitors. Also, if they can sink their canines into any part of the other males’ body, this can often lead to a persistent infection, which can, in turn, lower the victim’s sperm count, so perhaps they don’t need to target the testicles.”

I also ask Packer if prey might defend itself with a nut shot to a lion, but he explains, “Large prey animals, like Cape buffalo, rhino or elephants, defend themselves with horns or tusks, while smaller species generally just get munched.” 

Further research on the subject led me to the conclusion that, generally speaking, most animals do not go for the balls, primarily because balls often are hard to get to. However, not to disappoint, I did find four animals that do specifically go for the cheap nut shot. There may very well be more out there, but the four animals I found are sheep, llamas, hyenas and, inevitably, honey badgers.

Although bighorn sheep are known for butting heads, it’s also common for males to provoke a fight by kicking each other in the balls. As Ron Smith, president of the Bighorn Restoration Group, tells me, “I’ve seen that happen numerous times. It’s a pretty common thing for bighorn sheep to do during their ruts.” But simple provocation is not all that happens between male sheep and their nutsacks, as Smith says, “Sometimes, two males will come together, then face in opposite directions and they’ll give a swift kick right to the balls. I don’t know that there have been any in-depth studies on this, but from my own perspective, it’s the ultimate example of ‘all’s fair in love and war.’ The most powerful need is to pass on one’s genes and getting kicked in the nuts can take bighorn sheep out of commission for several weeks.”

Why do these sheep do this when so few other animals do? Well, it comes back to availability. As Smith explains, “A ram’s testicles are probably the largest testicles of any animal its size on the planet — they’ve got a couple of melons hanging down there — so they make an easy target.”

A similar, but even more gruesome behavior occurs in male llamas, who will bite off the balls of the competition. “Around the time [llamas] become sexually mature, males develop six fighting teeth,” Knowledge Nuts explains. “The fighting teeth are used to tear into opponents; after a battle, the llamas might exhibit torn ears or gashes along their flanks. But the favored target is the testicles. To secure the title as the only fertile male in a herd, llamas will attempt to castrate each other. For this reason, many farmers elect to have the fighting teeth removed.” I was unable to find this on YouTube, but I did find a video of an attempted nut removal during a fight between two guanacos, which are a close relative of the llama.

Hyenas, too, will go for the balls, but from what I could find, they’re not doing it to each other — instead, they’re targeting the balls of their prey. In 2019, in Kenya’s Aberdare National Park, there was a rash of cases of Hyenas tearing off the balls of buffalos. This being somewhat unusual behavior, officials looked into it and determined that, because the park had a deficit of predators, the hyenas had nothing to scavenge, which led to them ripping the cajones off of the buffalos for a tasty snack. This usually just deforms the buffalo, but there’s at least one video on YouTube — and I watched a lot of these — where hyenas took down a buffalo this way:

And if that’s not enough hyena ball-biting action for you, here’s another:

Finally, we come to honey badgers, which is probably the least surprising entry given their notoriously nasty disposition. The most famous honey badger in the world, undoubtedly, is Stoffel, the YouTube star that became a sensation for his uncanny ability to escape from his enclosure. But despite how adorable he is, Stoffel’s owner once told the Mirror, “He really rips you into pieces. He will go for your balls.” Honey badgers in general also seem to do this instinctively to hunters and trackers in the wild, and though this might seem like further evidence of what nasty creatures honey badgers are, it all still goes back to availability. 

See, as upright creatures, we might be advanced among our fellow animals, but we do — quite literally — open ourselves up to testicle injury, both intentional and unintentional. Hell, we’ve had 31 seasons of America’s Funniest Home Videos based almost entirely around this fact. No doubt it was because of this particular vulnerability that The Code was developed to begin with. If not for that all-important rule, humankind would likely still be in the wild with the testicle-tearing chimps, hyenas and honey badgers.