This is when somebody uses some sort of dangerous animal as discreet murder weapon. There's the old trick of leaving a snake in their hotel room, for instance, or the one where you drop a spider near their bed, or perhaps the one where you hide a scorpion in their suitcase. Whatever the animal, it's being used as a subtle but deadly surprise for the intended victim. The reasons for doing this vary: maybe the villain hopes that the murder will be deemed an accident (since sometimes, the animal could have gotten there by itself), although other times, it seems that the villain just likes doing things the difficult way for no good reason. Sometimes it's supposed to be some sort of trademark such as a villain with a snake theme. Sometimes it can be an ordinary house pet trained to cause an "accident" like leaving on the gas (read: turning it on after the victim is asleep).
Often, the murder animal will even be Genre Savvy enough to know its role in the story. Rather than waste time hiding or just wandering around aimlessly, as a real animal might do, it gets straight to the point and attacks the hero by the quickest route, despite having no apparent reason to do so. No matter how big the bedroom is, the spider will almost always end up crawling onto the face of the sleeping hero — and not, say, scuttling into the wardrobe, which is arguably more likely but rather less helpful for the plot. Although this could be justified, as these critters are cold-blooded and may seek heat/warmth. Don't expect a lot of sympathy for the animal, either. The ones chosen as assassins are generally a species which people consider Always Chaotic Evil like snakes and arachnids.
Not to be confused with a Shark Pool or other up-front use of animals as a means of execution. This is just about the animals which are delivered to the victim (rather than the victim being delivered to the animal) and which the victim isn't supposed to know about until its too late. Compare Attack Animal for when someone directly commands an animal to attack, rather than leaving it as a trap. If it's just made to look like a death by animal attack, that's This Bear Was Framed.
Grammar Nazi Note: Several of the animals mentioned below are "venomous" — they inject some toxin in their victim. It is rarely relevant if they are "poisonous" — that is, toxic if you try to eat them or if toxin is absorbed through the skin.
Done once with a dog that pushes the victim down the stairs. The man is quite smart about it, training the dog to respond only if the command phrase is spoken over the phone at the same time the downstairs clock chimes.
A more "hands-on" example occurs when a girl bitten by a snake in the ocean turns out to have been an attempt at murder by her fiancee's jealous stepsister, which involved physically holding the snake and forcing it to bite the victim. This is rather more realistic than most examples of this trope, because such an animal really can't be relied upon to kill someone on its own. Since they were both in the sea, it was basically impossible to find the "weapon" afterward, though a witness is able to spy what turned out to be tape holding the snake in place.
One Piece features Mr. Thirteen (a sea otter with a shell-shaped knife) and Miss Friday (a vulture with a machine gun), a pair of Baroque Works assassins who tries to kill off Sanji. Naturally, Sanji makes short work of them (and steals their Eternal Log).
Anatolia Story: One of the princesses staying in Kail's harem is killed by an assassin leaving venomous scorpions in her room (the story takes place in Asia Minor, which is home to one of the few scorpions with venom potent enough to kill a human). Earlier in the story, some of the princesses leave scorpions in Yuri's bed as a cruel prank, though those were identified as a non-lethal species; however, this happens right in the day when Kail was supposed to spend the night in Yuri's room, so the usually level-minded and sweet Yurigets PISSED.
This trope is parodied and double-subverted in the French comic bookRona : L'Or du Macho-Fichu. The Intrepid Reporter protagonist, while investigating in a Banana Republic where he has enemies, is advised to "offer more" to the hotel tenant before getting a room. After doing so, the tenant accepts to remove "Eugène" — a venomous snake that's "part of the house" — whom he's been paid to put in Rona's bed. The same night, though, Rona finds another deadly snake in his bed, and the tenant is outraged — it isn't Eugène, so it's utterly illegal since he's not getting any money from this.
Used in several Suske en Wiske comics, like De Scherpe Schorpioen and De Gouden Circel.
The Joker once got a man's pet cat, hopped up on Joker Venom, to bite its owner, killing him and giving him the usual hideous rictus grin. This occurred in his appearance in "The Laughing Fish".
Several of these appeared in the original stories (i.e. not based on Fleming's novels) in the James Bond newspaper strip:
Vampire bats (with venomous fangs) in "Flittermouse".
In Dr. No, someone drops a venomous spider (in the film) or centipede (in the book) into his room — he manages to beat it to death. Note that Scolpendra gigantea can be fatal to humans. The producers changed the creature from a centipede to a tarantula for the movie because they didn't think audiences would realise centipedes could be fatal. It's also a more logical choice (to the extent that this trope can ever be logical), as there is no centipede whose bite is reliably fatal to an adult human. While the same is true of tarantulas, there are some South American and Australian spiders that of similar size and appearance that really are very dangerous to humans. Thus a tarantula makes for an acceptable film stand-in. This was no comfort to the arachnophobic Sean Connery, who had to have a body double for the spider to crawl over.
In Live and Let Die, somebody tries much the same thing with a snake, which he fries with a quickly improvised flamethrower.
In Diamonds Are Forever, Wint and Kidd kill the dentist by dropping a scorpion down the back of his shirt.
In Aliens, Burke lets loose a pair of facehuggers in the room Ripley and Newt are sleeping in, hoping to impregnate them with alien eggs for the trip home as a way of smuggling the creatures past customs. As a fringe benefit this would also kill Ripley, who has threatened to expose his role in the destruction of the colony.
In the film version of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, the murderer tries to kill Poirot with a venomous snake. Nothing remotely similar happens in the book.
In Kill Bill, Elle Driver gives Budd a briefcase containing a black mamba, which promptly bites him in the face and kills him.
Two of the attempted murders in Murder by Death involve a venomous snake and a venomous scorpion.
In The Abominable Dr. Phibes, the title doctor kills several of his victims through the use of animal assassins: bees, bats, rats and locusts.
Parodied in Johnny Dangerously where the title character has an enemy killed by having him run over by a bull.
The aliens in The Arrival try this on Charlie Sheen's character by filling his hotel room bed with scorpions.
The comedy film Leonard Part 6 is about a formula which turns animals homicidal when they hear a code word.
In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, the spurned G-Girl attempts to kill her ex-boyfriend by flinging a live shark at him through the window of his new girlfriend's highrise apartment.
In what is almost certainly a Shout-Out to the Sherlock Holmes story "The Speckled Band" (see Literature examples below), Carry On Screaming has a scene were the villains attempt to murder the "heroes" by lowering a snake down the bellpull into their bed.
In If Looks Could Kill, a Femme Fatale tries to murder the protagonist by dropping a scorpion on his lap while his eyes are closed in anticipation for a blowjob. Michael doesn't notice and suddenly jerks up to get a condom, flinging the scorpion into her nightgown, sending her into a writhing panic he mistakes for seductive dancing. The scorpion likely would have killed her had an assassin ordered by the jealous Dragon to kill them both not done the job with a rocket launcher first (Michael was saved because he was still in the bathroom searching for that condom).
The Steven Seagal movie Fire Down Below has the bad guys trying to kill the hero with some snakes in his room. It doesn't work, and those same snakes get put into the bad guys' truck with hilarious results.
In Color of Night, the villain leaves a rattlesnake in Capa's mailbox, which nearly kills him.
In the Lone Wolf book 12, The Masters of Darkness, while dressed as the enemy and hitching a ride on a giant land vehicle, the hero is attacked in his cabin by a Plaak◊, a small jelly-like horror with venomous fangs. Ironically, this isn't because Lone Wolf's disguise has failed; the target of the assassination attempt is the creature he usurped the identity.
Fu Manchu is the acknowledged master of this method of killing. He is especially fond of this in the earlier books when he has access to venomous arthropods "unknown to Western science".
Wizards at the Unseen University have a history of advancing their careers by the principle of Dead-Mens Pointy Boots, and therefore have a saying: "When a man is tired of checking for scorpions in his boots, he is tired of life."
In Lords and Ladies, an elf tries to invoke this trope on Hodgesaaargh, siccing one of the falconer's own fearsome birds of prey on him. Subverted in that the raptor attacks the elf instead, because that's exactly what it does to Hodgesaaargh when he handles it.
In the same book, Magrat also uses Greebo (Nanny's Ogg cat) against another elf as one would a claymore mine.
Snuff mentions a "filing clerk" by the name of Arachne who pleaded to be assigned to the embassy of Fourecks because she's particularly attracted by venomous spiders. Vetinari gives her the task of taking care of Gravid at the end of the book. Not all sins are forgiven.
In the story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", the speckled band in question is a deadly snake the murderer sends down the bell cord to kill his adopted daughter to not give them her dowry, and is commanded with a whistle — a practice completely unknown in real life. When he tries to do the same thing to the dead girl's twin sister, who had gone to Holmes for help, Holmes attacks the snake, driving it back through the vent into the next room, and the murderer is bitten to death immediately after.
There's also The Hound Of The Baskervilles, where the Magnificent Bastard villain breeds a ferocious attack dog to scare an old man with a heart condition to death, and later tries to use it against his victim's nephew. In this case the directness of the animal is justified in that it was trained with the victims' scents, the villain stole the nephew's boot, and it accidentally "killed" (tripped and broke his neck running away) another man who was wearing the nephew's clothes.
In the story "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane", the Lion's Mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata). Subverted as it's not a murder weapon — the jelly is nigh invisible, and the victims swam into its tentacles by mistake.
In Children of Dune, some sort of saber-toothed tiger things are trained to attack sets of clothing impregnated with a certain chemical. The clothes are given as a gift to Ghanima and Leto II, and the tigers are sent to kill them. The worst part: the tigers were conditioned to attack two children wearing those clothes and matching their description. How were they conditioned? With carefully-selected pairs of children, of course. Pair after pair after pair until they got it right.
"Tell our buyers they can stop sending us pairs of children who fit the description."
A snake in the Ben Snow story "Suddenly, with Fangs". Subverted in that the snake wasn't that interested in attacking, and the intended victim ended up using it on the assassin.
Happens at the beginning of the Alex Rider book Scorpia. An old gangster has finally decided to retire from a massive international terrorist group, but you don't retire from massive international terrorist groups. So one of the members gives a "parting gift", which is actually a briefcase full of scorpions, which climb all over the man and sting him to death. Apparently his heart gives out long before the poison kills him.
The book features at least one of these. The animal in question is merely referred to as a "manticore".
There is also an anecdote told about the occupation of Dorne. After King Daeron conquers Dorne, he appoints a lord loyal to him to suppress dissidents and chase rebels. While guesting at the castle of a disgruntled Dornish lord, he is given a room with a rope beside the bed, and told that if he pulls it his host will have a girl sent to his bed. When, feeling amorous, he pulls it, it rips open the canopy above his bed and dumps an unreasonable amount of angry and venomous scorpions on top of him.
The Faceless Men sometimes use drugs to drive animals into vicious rages to have them kill their owners. Jaquen H'gar is implied to have used this to knock off one of the people on Arya's hit list, who was savaged by a beloved dog.
The second book of Bernard Werber's Ants trilogy has robotic ants sent to guide real ants to kill scientists working on an insecticide (and later, the cop that investigates the case).
Werewolf Fenrir Greyback is a self-induced animal assassin. He cannot control himself in werewolf form, but he gets around this by deliberately placing himself near his intended victims' home shortly before full moon so that, upon his change, those victims will be the closest human targets he can attack.
For that matter, consider Salazar Slytherin, who left the basilisk at Hogwarts for centuries so it could eventually get activated by his Heir (Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Voldemort) and kill the Muggle-borns. And for that matter, Voldemort using Nagini. Both of these examples are unusual, however; as Parseltongues, Slytherin and Voldemort can both communicate with snakes, and apparently have no problem getting them to do their bidding.
Worthy of mention due to the utter madness: in Tangled Webs, one Jerkass tries to kill a young lady by dropping a venomous (deadly for a human, that is) spider on her bed. Nevermind she's... a drow. As in "sneaky people who check where they go and hold spiders for sacred animals". Of course, when she saw it, Crowning Moment of Funny ensues. She horribly suffered from sharp venomous bites of nostalgia for a few minutes.
In Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure, the main villains are fond of using snakes and scorpions to do their dirty work. Justified in that a) they have special connections with these animals and b) they're too lazy to do it themselves.
Done with green mambas twice in The Poisonwood Bible. The first attempt fails, the second one ignores the intended target and kills one of the heroes.
In State of Fear, the main murder method of the bad guys is to get a team of ninjas to burst in, and restrain the target, while someone presses a blue-ringed octopus against their armpit. The point is an untraceable means of murder: the bite mark is barely noticeable and the species fairly obscure.
Attempted on Jame in Chronicles of the Kencyrath, during To Ride a Rathorn. Jame makes friends with the swamp adder and then returns her to her owner.
The Big Bad in the Doc Savage novel The Fantastic Island uses venomous centipedes for this purpose.
In Magyk, DomDaniel tries to kill Marcia with his Magogs, unsuccessfully.
The Aie-Aie of Queen Etheldredda in Physik carries a plague and is used by the Queen to kill those that displease her.
Semi-used in Safehold. While arranging for Cayleb to go hunting for a slash lizard was mostly just to get him away from most of his bodyguards, the assassins were hoping the creature would do the job for them. It didn't, so they had to attack him the usual way.
In one of the early Magic The Gathering tie-in novels, a general is nearly assassinated by a scorpion hidden in a bowl of chips (the attempt is foiled by the army's goblin mascot, who gets stung instead).
In Murder in the Dark, Phryne Fisher is sent a live coral snake inside a Christmas present.
In Cure the Texas Fever by J.T. Edson, one of the attempts to kill Waxahachie Smith involves unleashing an enraged longhorn steer to run him down.
A vampire bat attacks Bond in Nobody Lives for Ever. However, it was just supposed to infect him with rabies, and him slowly succumbing to it was supposed to give amusement to the bad guys before they cut his head off.
The bad guys try to kill Bond and Easy in Death Is Forever by having the their hotel room service bring them food laced with spider eggs, which were supposed to kill them from the inside after ingestion. The Big Bad later claims that it was just amusement to keep them on their toes.
The bad guys in The Man with the Red Tattoo developed a species of mosquito which infects people with West Nile disease that acts ten times faster than normal, killing them within a day.
A different take on this trope is in Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith. The killer is waging psychological warfare on his target by planting radioactive material in his house (in revenge for his role in the Chernobyl disaster). One way to get past the man's security is to plant a tiny particle of Caesium-137 in the fur of his dog.
An episode has a gorilla who had plastic surgery and mental conditioning(!) to make it look and act human, but would turn ape and kill when given an auditory cue (and a banana).
Another episode has an assassin drop a venomous spider in Max's suitcase while he was unpacking. Max fails to notice it clinging to the coat as he puts it in the closet where another assassin is waiting. Hilarity Ensues.
Lodz kills Ruthie with one of her own snakes in Season One of Carnivàle. She gets better.
In an episode of Frasier, Frasier tries to help his father resolve an unsolved murder case and comes to the conclusion that one of the suspects trained a monkey to stab the victim. He's wrong.
In the special The Real Wolfman, the specialists believed at the end that a man had trained a hyena to attack women and children and the villagers believed it was a werewolf or a large wolf.
In an episode of Monk, it turns out that the killer, a Howard Stern-esque radio DJ, had trained the neighbor's dog to turn on the gas in the bedroom where his wife, the victim, slept whenever the dog heard a certain phrase during his radio broadcast.
One episode of Columbo has the killer training a pair of guard dogs to attack the person saying a specific word, which he then induces the victim to say through a phone call.
In The Avengers episode "The Hidden Tiger", house cats are turned into man-killers.
The title character of Sledgehammer is being menaced by a cobra throughout an entire episode. The snake finally has him cornered when Sledge says, "I've been wanting to do this for a long time," and clocks the snake in the face with a vicious right-cross.
In Once Upon a Time, Regina in the fairy tale world had a pair of Agrhaban vipers sent to her room to kill herself with (à la Cleopatra) until her lover, the Genie suggests that there's another way. He uses the vipers to murder the king. It later turns out she planned the whole thing.
In the Bones episode "The Finger in the Nest" a dog is used. Brennan wants to adopt the dog, whom she has named Ripley, but it has to be put down. She and Booth bury him.
From Murdoch Mysteries, episode "Evil Eye of Egypt", a cobra is placed in a sarcophagus to bite the first person opening it. Naturally, this is blamed on an antic Egyptian curse.
Older Than Feudalism: A vase (c. 480 BCE) and a poem by Pindar (476-472 BCE) are the first sources for the story of Hera sending serpents to kill the infant Heracles. Of course, it didn't work. Baby Herc just strangled the snakes and used them as rattles.
In one episode of Bold Venture, a radio show starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, someone is murdered by having an enraged gamecock with razor sharp spurs on its faced tossed on to them while they are asleep. Their face is slashed to ribbons and they bleed to death.
Classic Traveller, Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #12 Amber Zone article "Royal Hunt". The Evil Chancellor Hamir has arranged for attacks by two different types of animals on the Potentate and the PC party: the Delajabar, an amphibious animal that lives in the Dweljara river, and a small but highly poisonous monster that will be inserted into the party's tents at night.
In the game Secrets of Shadow Ranch, Nancy's hosts at the ranch aren't there when she arrives, as a rattlesnake somehow got into their bedroom and sent one of them to the hospital. Possibly a subversion, as it's never confirmed that the culprit actually put it there.
Also, in Lights, Camera, Curses!, the Show Within a Show movie Pharaoh supposedly ends when the female lead (playing Nefertiti) tries to murder someone with a venomous snake. The ophidiophobic actress who plays Nefertiti isn't pleased when the director insists she hold a live (harmless) snake in this scene.
Mentioned in Assassin's Creed I. A female Egyptian assassin eliminated Cleopatra with a planted snake.
Far Cry 3 employs this frequently. Many outposts that can be taken tend to have cages with deadly predators just waiting to be released, and sometimes the predator can simply come from the wild. Once set loose, that defenseless-looking tiger will rip through pirates like tissue paper, giving you the outpost without lifting a finger. The animal, however, will still be there, and be more than happy to eat you next.
The Blade Runner video game had this done with (artificial) scorpions. Not only were they used to kill a major NPC, the player character could sit on one if you failed to see it (it was the same color as the chair, making it impossible to see).
The show humorously lampshades this trope. One mook releases a scorpion into Dr. Venture's room while he is sleeping just as a competing mook let a tarantula loose. Instead of killing their intended target, the two creatures just fight each other.
Serpentor of G.I. Joe often threw live snakes as missile weapons. The show couldn't actually show anyone being bitten, so these allegedly-venomous serpents wrapped themselves around their targets' necks and choked them instead.
In a Minoriteam episode, the White Shadow laments that his goons keep attempting this.
White Shadow: Honestly, why do we keep trying to kill these guys with snakes? Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, snakes have to be the worst way to kill someone!
Family Guy: "OH MY GOD, THERE'S A BEAR IN MY OATMEAL!"
Cleopatra successfully killed herself by having a venomous snake snuck in a basket into her room. Although scholars dispute this account due to the difficulty of forcing a snake to strike and the non-lethality of most snake bites. It is nonetheless the official history.
According to Lost Tapes a man tried to use a centipede to harm his neighbor. It didn't really work.
Some versions of the Assassin live-action game, as played on college campuses, allow this tactic. To make a "kill", the attacker must place a toy snake, spider, or scorpion in the target's bed, backpack, or the like; if anyone but the intended target finds the plastic or rubber Animal Assassin first, the "kill" fails.