Bears, Ticks, Black Widows, Brown Recluse, Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, and Mountain Lions...oh my!
I don't like any of those things. I just don't. But I know what to do if I encounter one.
Disclaimer: I learned all of this information while on field jobs or from personal online investigation. Take a safety class or look online for more information.
Bears get the reputation of being cute and cuddly. This is incorrect. These animals can rip your arm or face off. Most bears don't want to hurt you and will only attack when they feel threatened. That's why it is important to make yourself known when hiking in bear country. Do this by making noise by talking with your hiking buddies or singing, playing music, clapping your hands, or yelling something like "Hey bear!" when hiking alone. This is especially important when rounding blind corners or cresting a hill. You can even buy bells to attach to your backpack. If at all possible, carry bear spray. It's like pepper spray, but for an animal weighing between 200 and 1,400 pounds. Bear spray costs $45 and is usually issued when working in bear country. If you choose to hike somewhere with lots of bears, say somewhere like Yellowstone, shell out the $45 or see if it's possible to rent one. After all, it's a heck of a lot cheaper than a hospital bill. Be sure to attach the bear spray to your belt or carry it in your hand. Bear spray will do you no good if you keep it in your backpack.
The best place to view a bear is in the safety or your vehicle. However, that is not always possible. If you encounter a bear, stay calm. If hiking away from your vehicle, stay still and quiet. Notice which direction the wind is blowing, and if at all possible, move so the wind blows from you to the bear, allowing the bear to smell you. Back away slowly if the bear is not advancing towards you. If the bear stands on its rear legs, stay calm - it is only trying to get a better look at you. Bears will most likely not attack, but the chance for attack increases if it is feeding or has cubs nearby. Many bears are skittish and will leave the area once they see you, but some will not. These bears may make a hooting noise and scratch the ground with a paw. If you see this behavior, stay still and ready your bear spray. Take note of the direction of any wind and be prepared to shield your eyes if the wind is blowing towards you as the bear spray could blow directly into your eyes. The bear may charge at you, but these charges are usually bluffs. The Yellowstone National Park website on bear safety says you should begin spraying when a charging bear comes within 30 to 60 feet of you. Some websites tell you to spray in a back and forth motion with the canister angled slightly down at a 45 degree angle for 2-3 seconds. Spray directly into the bear's face if it continues to charge close to you. If the bear makes contact with you in any way, drop to the ground and play dead. You should lay face-down on the ground with your fingers interlaced behind your neck and your elbows and legs spread apart to make it more difficult for a bear to roll you over. You can also lay in the fetal position, again protecting your neck and vital organs. Stay in your position until you are sure the bear has left the area.
Sometimes, bears will attack as a predator instead of a scared animal who is defending itself from any threat it may presume you bring. When attacking as a predator, the bear intends to eat you. A bear with this intention will simply attack you without any of the pre-attack warning signs such as huffing and slapping the ground. If you encounter this type of attack, do not play dead and instead fight back, aiming for the eyes and the nose. Use bear spray and anything else you can get your hands on.
This website has much more information on bear attacks. I took the video to the right through a spotting scope in Yellowstone National Park's Hayden Valley. A Grizzly Bear chases a herd of Bison back and forth before running towards myself and another raptor migration counter. At this point, we decided to leave the area. Although seeing animal interactions like this is incredibly cool, your safety comes first. Be bear aware and know when to leave when a situation becomes unsafe.
Ticks won't attack you like a bear could. They prefer to harm you in a much slower way: Lime Disease.
This website has everything you could possible need to know about ticks. I'll sum up what I know about ticks anyway:
Ticks tend to hang out on long grass during the warmer months of the year. They let go of the grass when they detect carbon dioxide and drop onto whatever creature is passing close by or has brushed against the grass. Ticks are small, roughly the size of a sesame seed prior to drinking blood. Be sure to check you clothes and body, especially your legs, after hiking.
If you do find a tick, use tweezers to remove it. Monitor the bite to ensure symptoms of Lime Disease do not develop. Lime Disease begins with a circular rash that sometimes looks like a bull's-eye around the bite. The website linked to above has many more Lime Disease symptoms.
These are just terrible creatures and you should kill them if you see them. Okay, that sounds kind of harsh, but Black Widow bites can be serious and could require a trip to the hospital. After all, they are North America's most venomous spider. These are shiny, black spiders and the females have a tell-tale red hourglass on their bulbous bellies. These spiders hang out in dark places such as sheds, so be careful when sticking your hand in dark places.
These brown spiders are smaller than Wolf Spiders but are incredibly venomous. The bites can cause tissue at the bite mark to die and, in extreme cases, go gangrenous This website recommends you visit a doctor as soon as you know you've been bitten by a Brown Recluse. These spiders are slightly harder to identify that the Black Widow is, but look for the violin shaped mark on the top of the spider's head.
Rattlesnake bites are serious and you must seek medical attention if bitten. This website has some great information.
Rattlesnakes are easy to identify. Their head is triangular, unlike most other snakes, and they have a distinct rattle at the tip of their tail. Their rattle sounds much like a wind-up toy and they do this when they feel threatened. Rattlesnakes don't want to bite you - it takes a lot of energy for a snake to strike and rebuild venom after an attack. Be sure to stay clear of tall patches of grass, don't stick your hands in rock piles where you can't clearly see, and wear hiking boots or shoes instead of sandals when hiking. If you see a Rattlesnake on a trail, do not approach it. Give it plenty of room when passing it.
I've seen a few Rattlesnakes in my life, including the above picture. Another intern first found it laying in the road, and we later determined that it was dead. If you look closely, you can see large cuts on its body. Perhaps an animal defended itself against the snake or a raptor accidentally dropped its dinner.
I expected spiders, ants, and moths in a cabin, but I never expected scorpions to venture into
my living space. In six months, three scorpions made their way into my home. The first was by our kitchen sink. I thought it was dead, but decided to poke it in the face with a pen to make sure. Turns out scorpions like to play dead but will begin running around when poked in the face. Two other scorpions were found in the cabin, both in the bathroom. I found one of them when I went to take a shower one morning. Tip: Check your shower before getting in to ensure you don't step on a scorpion.
Scorpions can sting. Luckily, I wasn't ever stung, but this website tells me the sting is similar to one from a bee. Be sure to head to an Urgent Care if you experience an allergic reaction.
If you do find a scorpion in your cabin, safely transport it outside and away from your living area. The first two scorpions were taken to an area away from our cabin, but close enough that we walked past it each day. The third time require more action. After I finally got the scorpion to leave the corner of the shower with the use of a fly swatter and occasionally turning on the water, I placed, or more like slammed, a glass over it. I then stuck a piece of paper under the glass, and, because I really didn't want to risk being stung, I taped the paper to the glass. I then used an oven mitt (this is not required) to invert the glass and make the scorpion fall to the bottom. We were heading down from the ridge for errands, so we decided to take the scorpion with us and let it free somewhere far, far away from the cabin. Pictured left is the scorpion in a glass in the truck's cup holder.
Like most people, I have never seen a Mountain Lion. This is because Mountain Lions don't want you to see them and are incredibly stealthy. They're crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. If they were to attack a human, they would generally go for a short woman walking alone in the mountains. This is an apt description of myself, and so I decided to learn everything I could about what to do if I ever encountered a Mountain Lion.
This website is awesome and I'm going to sum up a few things below:
If you see a Mountain Lion, stay still. Slowly make yourself look as large as possible by raising anything you have with you (a jacket, a backpack, a child, your arms) above your head in a V. Make noise. Speak slowly but loudly, with a firm voice. Maintain eye contact. Slowly back up, always facing the lion and without making any sudden movements. Never crouch or appear small. Basically, you don't want to make yourself seem like prey, even though you really are. The most important thing to remember is to stay where you are and do not run. Running makes the Mountain Lion want to chase you. If you are attacked, fight back. Protect your throat and hit the lion with anything you can get your hands on, including rocks and even just your fists.