Human Bites: Our Primate Connection

FIFA, football’s governing body, recently imposed a four-month ban on Uruguay striker Luis Suarez for biting Melvin Durai's Humoran Italian opponent, Giorgio Chiellini, during a World Cup match. It was the third biting incident in Suarez’s career and shocked soccer fans. Many of them believed that Suarez deserved a lifetime ban, but FIFA took two important factors into consideration in giving a lighter sentence: (1) Video from several camera angles was unable to conclusively disprove Suarez’s claim that his teeth accidentally collided with Chiellini’s shoulder; and (2) Uruguayan authorities supplied FIFA with proof that Suarez has always been meticulous about getting his rabies shots.

Suarez’s punishment includes a nine-match international ban. He is also banned from any football-related activities, which means that he can participate in swimming, for example, but can’t do a belly-flop or take a dive.

In a carefully worded statement, Suarez said he “deeply regretted what occurred in the match, as deeply as suarez bitethe bite on Giorgio Chiellini.”

Apologizing to Chiellini and the entire football world, he added, “I vow to the public that there will never again be another similar incident, as I have agreed to FIFA’s request that I wear a muzzle during football matches.”

His previous biting incidents occurred when he was playing for the Dutch club Ajax in 2007 and English club Liverpool in 2013. He is so notorious for his biting that some folks in Texas are training their pit bulls by showing them “Luis Suarez highlights.”

He has committed three bites in seven years, which is a Guinness World Record for “football players biting opponents while presumed to be sane.” But it’s nowhere close to the Guinness World Record for football players biting referees. That record belongs to a Ugandan football player who was so smitten with a female referee that he kept giving her “love bites” during a match. He received a two-month suspension from the Federation of Uganda Football Federations (FUFA) and a two-year suspension from his wife, also named Fufa.

Biting is more likely to happen in sports like wrestling and boxing, where mouths often get too close to ears, as boxer Evander Holyfield discovered in 1997 when he fought Mike Tyson in a world heavyweight championship bout. Holyfield managed to retain his title, but not his entire ear.

Tyson, the former champ, was disqualified for biting off part of Holyfield’s right ear, but fortunately mended his ways and did not bite anyone else, not even his ex-wife’s divorce attorney.

Biting is an instinctive reaction for dogs and other animals, but considered primitive behavior for humans, even those who grew up in West Virginia. It’s not uncommon, however, for humans to resort to biting, especially when they’re angry, under extreme stress or competing for something important, such as a World Cup, Nobel Prize or parking spot at the mall.

Children in particular are prone to bite each other, until an adult reminds them that their teeth should be used only for biting food – and those hard-to-open plastic packets that food comes in.

In an article for, Dr. Robert Glatter writes that “humans biting other humans reminds us of our ancestral connection with primates – and how through evolution and development of organized cultures and societal norms, such behavior became unacceptable.”

This “ancestral connection with primates” is perhaps what got a 20-year-old Indian man in trouble. As the Press Trust of India reported, Pushparaj (also known as Pintu) of Indore was recently sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment after a judge found him guilty of biting his neighbor’s ear off. (In case you’re wondering, Pushparaj is not a rabid fan of Luis Suarez. He’s been vaccinated too.)

Pushparaj bit off the right ear of 22-year-old Gabbar after the neighbor hurled a stone at Pushparaj’s pet dog. Poor Gabbar. He apparently didn’t see the sign on the gate that said, “Beware of human.”

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Hi Melvin, Long time no hear. How are you old chap! Still alive and kicking I hope!
    I need to try Nshima & Curry, sounds like a good combination, plus its Ramadan, will probably go down a treat with the kids.


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