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Dangerous Animals

(Adapted from the U.S. Army Survival Manual)

Animals rarely are as threatening to the survivor as the rest of the environment. Common sense tells the survivor to avoid encounters with bears, and other large or dangerous animals. You should also avoid large grazing animals with horns, hooves, and great weight. Your actions may prevent unexpected meetings. Move carefully through their environment. Do not attract large predators by leaving food lying around your camp. Carefully survey the scene before entering water or forests.

Smaller animals actually present more of a threat to the survivor than large animals. To compensate for their size, nature has given many small animals weapons such as fangs and stingers to defend themselves. Each year, a few people are bitten by sharks, mauled by alligators, and attacked by bears. Most of these incidents were in some way the victim’s fault.

However, each year more victims die from bites by relatively small venomous snakes than by large dangerous animals. Even more victims die from allergic reactions to bee stings. For this reason, we will pay more attention to smaller and potentially more dangerous creatures. These are the animals you are more likely to meet as you unwittingly move into their habitat, or they slip into your environment unnoticed.

Keeping a level head and an awareness of your surroundings will keep you alive if you use a few simple safety procedures. Do not let curiosity and carelessness kill or injure you.

INSECTS AND ARACHNIDS

You recognize and identify insects, except centipedes and millipedes, by their six legs while arachnids have eight. All these small creatures become pests when they bite, sting, or irritate you.

Although their venom can be quite painful, bee, wasp, and hornet stings rarely kill a survivor unless he is allergic to that particular toxin. Even the most dangerous spiders rarely kill, and the effects of tick-borne diseases are very slow-acting. However, in all cases, avoidance is the best defense. In environments known to have spiders and scorpions, check your foot gear and clothing every morning. Also check your bedding and shelter for them. Use care when turning over rocks and logs.

Scorpions

You can find desert scorpions from below sea level in Death Valley to elevations as high as 3,600 meters in the Andes. Typically brown or black in moist areas, they may be yellow or light green in the desert. Their average size is about 2.5 centimeters. Fatalities from scorpion stings are rare, but they can occur in children, the elderly, and ill persons. Scorpions resemble small lobsters with raised, jointed tails bearing a stinger in the tip. Nature mimics the scorpions with whip scorpions or vinegar-roons. These are harmless and have a tail like a wire or whip, rather than the jointed tail and stinger of true scorpions.

Spiders

You recognize the brown recluse or fiddleback spider of North America (Loxosceles reclusa) by a prominent violin-shaped light spot on the back of its body. As its name suggests, this spider likes to hide in dark places. Though rarely fatal, its bite causes excessive tissue degeneration around the wound and can even lead to amputation of the digits if left untreated.

You find members of the widow family (Latrodectus species) worldwide, though the black widow of North America is perhaps the most well-known. Found in warmer areas of the world, the widows are small, dark spiders with often hourglass-shaped white, red, or orange spots on their abdomens.

Bees, Wasps, and Hornets

We are all familiar with bees, wasps, and hornets. They come in many varieties and have a wide diversity of habits and habitats. You recognize bees by their hairy and usually thick body, while the wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets have more slender, nearly hairless, bodies. Some bees, such as honeybees, live in colonies. They may be either domesticated or living wild in caves or hollow trees. You may find other bees, such as carpenter bees, in individual nest holes in wood, or in the ground, like bumblebees. The main danger from bees is their barbed stinger located on their abdomens. When the bee stings you, it rips its stinger out of its abdomen along with the venom sac, and the bee dies. Except for killer bees, most bees tend to be more docile than wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets that have smooth stingers and are capable of repeated attacks.

Avoidance is the best tactic for self-protection. Watch out for flowers or fruit where bees may be feeding. Be careful of meat-eating yellow jackets when cleaning fish or game. The average person has a relatively minor and temporary reaction to bee stings and recovers in a couple of hours when the pain and headache go away. Those who are allergic to bee venom have severe reactions including anaphylactic shock, coma, and death. If antihistamine medicine is not available and you cannot find a substitute, an allergy sufferer in a survival situation is in grave danger.

Ticks

Ticks are common in the tropics and temperate regions. They are familiar to most of us. Ticks are small round arachnids with eight legs and can have either a soft or hard body. Ticks require a blood host to survive and reproduce. This makes them dangerous because they spread diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, encephalitis, and others that can ultimately be disabling or fatal. There is little you can do to treat these diseases once contracted, but time is your ally since they are slow-acting ailments. According to most authorities, it takes at least 6 hours of attachment to the host for the tick to transmit the disease organisms. Thus, you have time to thoroughly inspect your body for their presence. Beware of ticks when passing through the thick vegetation they cling to, when cleaning host animals for food, and when gathering natural materials to construct a shelter. Always use insect repellents, if possible.

LEECHES

Leeches are blood-sucking creatures with a worm-like appearance. You find them in the tropics and in temperate zones. You will certainly encounter them when swimming in infested waters or making expedient water crossings. You can find them when passing through swampy, tropical vegetation and bogs. You can also find them while cleaning food animals, such as turtles, found in fresh water. Leeches can crawl into small openings; therefore, avoid camping in their habitats when possible. Keep your trousers tucked in your boots. Check yourself frequently for leeches. Swallowed or eaten, leeches can be a great hazard. It is therefore essential to treat water from questionable sources by boiling or using chemical water treatments. Survivors have developed severe infections from wounds inside the throat or nose when sores from swallowed leeches became infected.

 Steve's Notes: Leeches carry no known viruses, so there is little direct danger from their bite. The danger is only in the possibility of infection in the wound later.

POISONOUS SNAKES

There are no infallible rules for expedient identification of poisonous snakes in the field, because the guidelines all require close observation or manipulation of the snake’s body. The best strategy is to leave all snakes alone. Where snakes are plentiful and poisonous species are present, the risk of their bites negates their food value. Apply the following safety rules when traveling in areas where there are poisonous snakes:

Walk carefully and watch where you step. Step onto logs rather than over them before looking and moving on.

Look closely when picking fruit or moving around water.

Do not tease, molest, or harass snakes. Snakes cannot close their eyes. Therefore, you cannot tell if they are asleep. Some snakes, such as mambas, cobras, and bushmasters, will attack aggressively when cornered or guarding a nest.

Use sticks to turn logs and rocks.

Wear proper foot gear, particularly at night.

Carefully check bedding, shelter, and clothing.

Be calm when you encounter serpents. Snakes cannot hear and you can occasionally surprise them when they are sleeping or sunning. Normally, they will flee if given the opportunity.

Use extreme care if you must kill snakes for food or safety. Although it is not common, warm, sleeping human bodies occasionally attract snakes.

DANGEROUS LIZARDS

Gila Monster

The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectrum) of the American southwest, including Mexico, is a large lizard with dark, highly textured skin marked by pinkish mottling. It averages 35 to 45 centimeters in length and has a thick, stumpy tail. Unlikely to bite unless molested, it has a poisonous bite.

Mexican Beaded Lizard

The Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum) resembles its relative, the Gila monster. It has more uniform spots rather than bands of color (the Gila monster). It also is poisonous and has a docile nature. You find it from Mexico to Central America.

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