Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dangerous Creatures of the Morongo Basin

Martha Hunt, MA Health Promotions

I know it is only February but the warm winter we have been having has allowed dome of the dangerous critters of Morongo Basin to creep out of their winter slumber now and then looking for food. It is a good idea to prepare now to ‘critter proof’ your home, rather than wait until the creatures have entered your home or bitten you. So as spring is quickly approaching, the desert and its creatures will be re-awakening to begin the cycle of life again.

If you have been in 29 Palms for a while, some of these may not be so scary anymore. If you are new to 29 Palms, you think that everything that crawls, slithers, creeps or flies is going to either kill you or leave you maimed for life. Here is a brief overview of some of these critters, which in the end are not so scary after all when you learn how to avoid them.

The best form of critter prevention is to stay away from them, to eliminate all inviting, homey spots around your home such as piles of lumber and debris, and to seal all cracks and crevices that they can use to crawl into your home. A little spackle and paint does wonders as far as sealing tiny cracks and holes where the critters can enter your home.

Most critters, either poisonous or semi-poisonous, prefer nice dark, quiet, undisturbed places such as out buildings, wood or debris piles, closets, attics, etc. and they usually only wander out of these spaces when they are hungry. In fact, most critter/ human contact is purely accidental on both parts, resulting in the critter biting out of fear.

The two scariest spiders in this area are the Black Widow and Brown Recluse spiders. While it’s correct that there are no true Brown Recluses here in Morongo Basin, their first cousins live here, and at first glance can be mistaken for a true Brown Recluse. This cousin of the BR also causes necrotising bites and so should also be viewed as potentially dangerous. A necrotizing bite is a bite that doesn’t heal and continues to fester and spread from the original bite spot. BR bites can take up to 2months to heal and need to be kept clean like any open wound.

Spider & scorpion bites are rarely fatal, and when handled properly, can be easily treated as well. Black Widow bites and scorpion stings feel like a pin-prick and progresses in pain and swelling until the whole area is red, warm, and swollen. The pain may spread to other parts of the body and symptoms may also include nausea, sweating, convulsions and, in rare cases, death.

The only people seriously at risk from Black Widow bites and scorpion stings are the very young or old and those individuals with compromised immune systems. If you are bitten or stung, call your health care provider or poison control number immediately and seek help.

A bite from a Brown Recluse may go unnoticed for several hours before turning red, swelling and beginning to blister. On rare occasions, a severe bite from a BR can cause the skin to not just blister up, but to die back and leave an open sore. Heeling may take a month or longer and may leave a scar where the sore was. As with the Black Widow bites, BR bites should be promptly treated to prevent further health risks.

Regarding snakes, don’t tease snakes! They bite to defend themselves and the snake usually ends up paying for your teasing with its life. It has been estimated that as many as half of all snakebites are provoked by humans purposely scaring the snakes. Of those bites that are not provoked by people, most are below the knee and half are dry (meaning that no venom was injected).

A good rule to follow in Morongo Basin is – ‘if it rattles, it’s poisonous’. Snakes who do not have rattles in Morongo Basin are either non-poisonous or semi-poisonous (they’ll just make you ill if bitten, not kill you).

If any snake bites you or someone you are with, seek medical help immediately! Keep the victim calm, do not ice the wound and do not try to suck the venom from it. Snakebites are rarely fatal, but ALL snake bite victims need medical assistance! If you or someone around you is bitten, call 911 immediately!

Remember that the best way to avoid the dangerous creatures of Morongo Basin is to steer clear of them. Clean up the debris in your yard and get rid of those comfy hiding places that they live in. Seal all openings to your home and watch where you walk in your yard or when hiking. These creatures will try their best to avoid you and they are hoping you do the same as well.

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