Poisonous Pest Primer

Poisonous snakes and scorpions. They both pose risks to hikers and mountain bikers. Still, the vast majority of these creatures are far from malevolent and aggressive. These biters and stingers of nature merely want what we all want -- great food, a little sex, cut abs and to not be attacked. They'll only pick a fight with you if they think you're messing with them, so here's how to peacefully co-exist with these critters when you're out on the trail this summer:

Snakes: There are four basic varieties of snakes in the U.S. whose bite can be fatal to humans -- the coral, copperhead, cottonmouth water moccasin and rattlesnake. All of them are generally nonaggressive and are usually active during the early evening to early morning hours. They often lie out on warm desert roads or hiking trails so they can regulate their cold-blooded temperatures. To avoid a harmful confrontation, Lee Cantrell, supervisor of the Los Angeles Regional Poison Information Center, suggests the following:

  • Walk on clear paths, and avoid tall grass and heavy underbrush.
  • Try not to step on logs or large stones.
  • Wear heavy, knee-high socks and high-top shoes or boots.

If you or one of your companions is snake-bit, first try to ascertain whether the guilty reptile is poisonous--if it has jointed rattles on its tail or its conspicuously colored, there's a good chance that it is. Then:

  • Get the victim away from the snake because it will bite again.
  • Keep him warm, calm and as still as possible.
  • Remove restrictive garments and jewelry from the bite area.
  • Keep the affected area in a functional position (limbs unfolded), just below heart level.
  • Do not apply heat, ice or a tourniquet, or administer any medication, caffeine or alcohol until after medical evaluation.
  • Do not try to cut open the bite wound and suck out the poison. This will do more harm than good.
  • Get the victim to the emergency department of the nearest hospital pronto.

Scorpions: These small land animals, found in the western U.S., look like little lobsters and while their stings can be painful, only the uncommon Bark Scorpion carries a poison that can cause serious illness or death. Someone who is allergic to bee and wasp stings should seek emergency care for any kind of scorpion sting, regardless of the species that delivered it, however.

The Bark Scorpion is slender, about two inches long and varies in color from straw yellow to a dark yellow-brown. Some have dark stripes on the back, but don't get close enough to find out, even if you're bitten. Unlike other species, it tends to carry its tail down, not arched over its back.

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