Many people are bitten every year by snakes and spiders and are unable to identify what bit them. With spring and summer just around the corner, knowing whether or not a snake or spider is poisonous can save your life or at the very least, offer peace of mind. Five of the most common bites that afflict hikers, children and homeowners, and how to recognize and treat their bites are listed below.
Snakes: There are four kinds of poisonous snakes in the United States: the copperhead, the cottonmouth (or water moccasin), the rattlesnake and the coral snake. An easy way to determine whether of not a snake is poisonous is the shape of its head. If the head is shaped like an arrow point, it’s poisonous. If it’s round, it’s not. Another way to tell the difference between a poisonous coral snake and safer kissing cousins are the rings around its colorful body. In the United States, there’s a saying: “Red next to yellow, kill a fellow. Red next to black, venom lack.”
Copperheads and water moccasins are found mostly in the southeast and south central parts of the country. Rattlesnakes are found across the entire country though they prefer dry areas like deserts and flatlands. The coral snake is the deadliest snake in the United States and is found mostly in the southeastern part of the country.
If you’re bitten by a poisonous snake:
- Lie down and try to remain calm. If bite is located on the finger, hand or arm, remove all jewelry and watch.
- Try to keep the bitten area lower than the heart and try to apply a cold pack or ice immediately. Doing so will help slow the progress of venom throughout the body.
- Take the person to an emergency room as quickly as possible.
- Don’t place a tourniquet around the limb unless you know how to use one.
- Don’t suck out the venom.
- Don’t give the person anything to eat or drink.
If at all possible, and without risking further injury, try to kill the snake and take it to the hospital with you for identification. If not, try to remember what it looked like.
Scorpions: There are several different kinds of scorpions, and some are more poisonous than others. A scorpion bite, contrary to most movie Westerns, aren’t usually deadly. Their bites produce a burning sensation and sometimes nausea and vomiting, and they can cause seizures or unconsciousness. As with a snakebite, try to keep the bitten area lower than the level of the heart. Place a cold compress on the bite and take the injured person to the hospital as soon as possible.
Jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-War Stings: The sting from either of these marine creatures can be extremely painful and the Man-of-War often leaves its stinger in the victim, which produces an intense burning pain at the site of the sting. In some cases, breathing can be affected and unconsciousness can result, which in turn may lead to drowning. If you or someone you know has been bitten by a jellyfish, apply a cold pack to the area immediately. Watch for any allergic reactions. The Portuguese Man-of-War may leave its stinger inside the victim. Don’t try to scrape the stinger away, as this may cause more damage and leave the broken end imbedded in the skin. Instead, and if possible, use a mixture of salt water and vinegar to wash the affected area. Call for medical aid.
Bee, Hornet and Wasps: No doubt about it, stings from bees, hornets and wasps can be painful, but unless you’re allergic, the pain usually subsides in a short amount of time. Only honeybees leave their stingers imbedded in skin. Pull out bee stingers as soon as possible, don’t try to scrape them off, or you’ll damage the stinger and it will be nearly impossible to remove. Put a cold pack on the sting as soon as possible.
Spiders: In the United States, the two most common, harmful spider bites are from the Black Widow and the Brown recluse spiders.
The red hourglass shape on the underside of its black belly easily identifies the Black Widow. Someone bit by a Black Widow may feel pain and display reddened and swollen skin around the bite area. Sweating and stomach cramps come next, followed by nausea and vomiting by many people. As with snake and scorpion bites, try to keep the bitten area below the level of the heart and place a cold pack on the bite site and get to a hospital as soon as you can, especially if a child has been bitten.
A Brown recluse spider can be identified by the upside down violin shaped area on the back of its head. The design can be black and shiny or dark brown in color. The Brown recluse isn’t very big, and may be anywhere from ¼ to ¾ inches long. Though small, the bite of a Brown recluse can cause extensive skin tissue damage if not treated promptly. If bitten, the victim will experience pain and swelling at the area, which may be reddened and include the formation of a blister-like abscess which in some cases may look like a bulls-eye. Pain usually becomes more severe following the hours after a bite and is followed by chills and fever and vomiting. Within twenty-four hours, a rash may also appear. Many people don’t realize they’ve been stung by a Brown recluse until they end up in the emergency room. The bite of a Brown recluse can cause severe and alarmingly ulcerated wounds that just get bigger and bigger, so don’t delay treatment if you think you may have been bitten by one.
Don’t mess around with snake or spider bites. Even if you’re pretty sure the snake or spider that bit you isn’t poisonous, don’t take chances. Play it on the safe side and go to your nearest emergency room for treatment.