The desert is a lovely place, but fraught with peril. They don't call it Death Valley for nothing. Aside from the oppressive heat and lack of water, the desert is also full of critters that can bite and sting. Some of these guys can even kill you if you aren't able to find medical help. Spiders, scorpions, centipedes, and snakes are all found in dark places -- caves, abandoned buildings and under rocks. Never reach into a hole or under a rock and always check where you lay down. It's also a good idea to shake your boots or shoes before you put them back on.
Spiders - Deserts have many kinds of spiders, but most of them aren't venomous. The creepiest looking of these is probably the tarantula. Although they may look fierce, their bite isn't very dangerous and they aren't very interested in you anyway. What you need to watch out for is the brown recluse and the black widow. You can spot the black widow by its shiny black coat and red hourglass marking on its belly. Their bites are rarely fatal but can make you very sick -- headaches, dizziness, nausea and cramps. Brown recluses are light brown and have a violin-shaped marking on the head and back. If you're bitten by a recluse and don't get medical attention, you could die, but it's not likely.
Scorpions - There are more than 30 different types of scorpions in the Arizona desert alone, but only two produce venom that can kill a human. They inject this venom through stingers on their tails. You'll know if you've been tagged by a scorpion if you feel pain at the site of the sting, numbness, increased heart rate and difficulty in breathing. Keep your distance from all scorpions just to be safe.
Spider bites and scorpion stings are most dangerous to small children and the elderly. If you're bitten or stung, treat it the following way and get some medical attention as soon as possible:
- Sit down in the shade and relax.
- Wash the area with soap if you have some. If not, rinse with water.
- Apply a cool compress to the bite or sting.
- Elevate the area above your heart level.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if you have one.
- Tie a light constricting band around the affected body part about three inches above the point of contact. Use a bandanna, a shoestring, some gauze or anything else that isn't too heavy. It should be loose enough to get a finger between your skin and the wrap. This helps slow the flow of venom into your bloodstream.
- Get to a doctor as soon as you can.
On the next page, we'll learn about snakes and lizards.