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Rattlers, scorpions, lizards ready to feed
Watch for venomous critters on warm days
Photo/George AndrejkoA diamondback rattlesnake in a ready-to-strike position.
Photo/George Andrejko

A diamondback rattlesnake in a ready-to-strike position.

Welcome to springtime in Arizona; home to the most dangerous rattlesnake, spider, lizard, and scorpion in the nation. The temperatures are rising and those slithering, crawling, burrowing, and web-spinning critters are ready to eat.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department reminds the public these venomous insects and reptiles become active this time of year and people who take the time to learn and educate themselves and their children can minimize the likelihood of a dangerous encounter.

"It's just about time," said Zen Mocarski, public information officer at the Game and Fish Kingman office. "After a winter of inactivity, they're ready for their first meals of the year. Spiders, scorpions, rattlesnakes, the Gila monster, and a variety of other critters are part of life in Arizona. As it warms up, they'll become increasingly more visible."

Mocarski worries most about young children who have a natural curiosity of their surroundings.

"Parents need to teach children not to pick up any type of wildlife," he said. "Teach your kids to come and get you when they see something."

The most commonly encountered rattlesnake in Arizona is the western diamondback, which also accounts for the most bites. And, while there is no such thing as a typical rattlesnake bite, the Mohave is accepted as the most dangerous, although the potency of its venom can vary from region-to-region.

"What's the most dangerous rattlesnake?" Mocarski asked. "The one that bit you."

Mocarski said accidental bites are rare and many incidents involve alcohol. However, if bitten, the rules to follow are simple.

"Remove any restrictive clothing and jewelry and get to a medical facility as quickly as possible," he explained. "Forget what you've seen in movies and get treatment with anti-venom. Do not cut open the bite area and try to suck out the venom, don't submerge the bite area in ice, and do not tie off the area with a tourniquet."

While approximately 30 percent of rattlesnake bites are considered dry bites - those that do not require anti-venom treatment - a medical professional should make that determination.

In addition, do not spend time trying to capture or collect the rattlesnake. Identification is not necessary for treatment.

Understanding wildlife behavior can go a long way in avoiding bites and stings.

Rattlesnakes are cold blooded and have to work to try and maintain an ideal body temperature. During cooler times, such as evening hours, rattlesnakes will seek out a heat source such as pavement. During the heat of the day, they will seek shade.

Mocarski added that it is a myth that rattlers will always rattle before a strike.

"It's our jobs to take certain precautions," Mocarski said. "Keep a close eye on the sides of trails and never place your hands and feet in an area you can't see."

As for dogs, Mocarski said encounters with rattlesnakes can be dangerous.

"Dogs tend to be bitten around the face and neck," he explained. "Training can help, but keeping your pet on a leash and close to your side will help avoid bites that occur as a result of a dog's natural curiosity."

For scorpions and spiders, Mocarski said to wear gloves when working around wood or rock piles and to shake out shoes that have been left outside. He added that open-toed shoes provide little protection.

Most scorpion stings are comparable to that of a bee. However, the sting of the bark scorpion can be more severe. Its sting can be harmful to young children, the elderly, and individuals in poor health.

While all spiders are venomous, two factors must exist to be considered a threat to humans: the venom must be strong enough to do damage and their jaws must be able to break human skin. With these factors in mind, two spiders in the area are considered dangerous to humans: the brown (a relative of the brown recluse), and the black widow.

"All these animals are important parts of the ecosystem," Mocarski explained. "Rattlesnakes help keep rodent populations under control while scorpions and spiders feast on a number of different types of insects. They've been here a long time. It's our job to learn to live with them, not their job to learn to live with us."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, August 8, 2011
Article comment by: Michael McNally

(My encounter with a Northern Arizona sider )

Hello Lynder Duffy and all my very good friends in Williams Arizona.
I was on vacation in the Williams area late last summer Starting August 2010 on my 6 weeks visit to the United States, and although I have always been aware of the potential dangers from venomous wild life my knowledge and survival skills did not stop a very small spider from having a taste of English blood, “The Royal Feast” I have travelled the world on many occasions and have come across a variety of little and very large members of the animal kingdom from Mountain Lions off highway 64 to black bear, Snakes in Texas and you use your imagine what I came across in Mexico, But near Williams AZ my smallest guest was a spider, this little fellow somehow must have found his way onto my left hand as I was taking my afternoon nap outside my place of residence just a few mile north of Williams, as I was sleeping, the feeling of the spider heading between my fingers caused me to move them, “hence the spider struck” I woke immediately throwing my hand skywards! the pain was so intense causing me to leave my seat and to stumble while looking for the creature that had sank it’s fangs into my flesh, there was no way to deal with the pain as I had tried ice cold water and I even put my hand deep into the freezer to stop the burning feeling, I was aware at this time that this bite could be venomous and after a short time I started to seek advice, some residents of the area said it would be ok and it would just go away in time, but this did not make me feel any better as now I had found a sore point on my neck and I was needing water more than ever!, I put up with the pain for the next few hours and found a hole had appeared in my finger, later that night while sleeping I woke to find my hand and arm were itching so bad I was nearly taking the skin off.

The following morning things were looking pretty bad, my hand had swollen to twice it’s normal size and two of my fingers were covered in blisters and heck if that burning feeling and pain were traveling up my arm, it was now time to see a doctor so I grabbed my (10 Million Pound) travel insurance papers and headed into Williams, on my arrival I told the receptionist at the towns very own Medical centre of my perhaps life threatening injury, her very words to me were that before a doctor would see to me I would have to hand over the sum of two or three hundred USD, it was then I reminded this young lady that I had a travel insurance with an exchange value of about 18 Million USD and I thought I was in need of medical help as soon as possible, but she would not entertain my request, as I was leaving the Medical Centre a fellow patient could see I was looking in pretty bad shape and advised that I should get someone to get me to hospital pretty fast.

“Please remember at this time I’m a visitor from the UK”
So I’m now looking for the closest medical help, and still at this time wondering if my injury was as bad as it looked?, so I thought I would call on some friendly people on Route 66, as I was really feeling sick but unaware of the dangers I continued to walk (stagger) towards town, I firstly came across the ladies in western boots and saddle's and then a really helpful guy in a store that sells locks and safes, all were really concerned about my welfare, but I really wanted to know what had bit me, and was I going to be ok?, still I had forgetting that time was important now, after I called into the post office and showed my injured hand to one of my friends there and told her I had been turned away by the Medical Centre, she made a swift phone call and I was soon on my way to Flagstaff, on my arrival I handed my insurance forms over and I seen a nurse to give my details, and then I was asked to take a seat in the waiting area which was overflowing with people, I had just been sitting for a few minutes when a nurse called my name, at this time I was feeling very unwell and feeling very sick, the nurse escorted me to a room and I was swiftly set to bed, blood tests and rehydration started immediately, then I was soundly sleeping, hours later I was told that the tests had shown the venom from a Brown Recluse, (same as a Rattle Snake Venom) I was then told what could have happed to me, but because of the caring medical staff (Nurses and Doctors) of the Flagstaff Medical centre I made a good recovery in a few weeks.

My Story just might have sent some people to sleep, but the points I would like to make are that all siders carry a venom even over here in the UK, luckily the English weather keeps our spiders under control, but I’m sure that no Doctor any where in the UK or Europe would ever refuse to see a patient from a different country while on vacation.

I would like to thank the people of Williams and the Flagstaff Medical Centre that showed a great concern for my welfare.

My very best wishes from over the pond.

Michael T McNally.

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