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Poisonous Snakes

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The coral snake and 11 species of rattlesnakes found in Arizona are among the most diverse and fascinating animals in the world.

Their mythic reputations engender both our fear and fascination with venomous creatures. Unfortunately, the informantion handed down through western folklore wrongfully depicts these animals as aggressive or menacing. Actually, the majority of reptile bites managed through the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center were provoked by the person who was bitten. Most bites are preventable when we use informed caution with these desert neighbors.

When someone is bitten, the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is frequently called upon to offer medical consultation. Fortunately, fatalities from reptile bites are extremely rare when modern medical resources are available. Despite the fact that the recent death rate has dropped to less than 1%, serious symptoms are possible, and all bite victims must be seen in a health care facility without delay.

Preventing Bites

Some bites, however, are true accidents. A few precautions will redue the possibility of contact with an unseen snake:
  1. Leave wild animals alone. Fifty to seventy percent of reptile bites managed by the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center were provoked by the person who was bitten-that is, by someone trying to kill, capture or harass the animal.
  2. Be aware of peak movement times. Reptiles are most active in the warmer months of April through October. During the hottest months, they will be most active at night. They may be encounterd during the day in spring and fall.
  3. Try to keep your hands and feet out of crevices in rocks, wood piles and deep grass. Always carry a flashlight and wear shoes or boots when walking after dark.
  4. Never handle a venomous reptile, even after it's dead. Reflex strikes with envenomation can occur for several hours after death.
  5. Install outdoor lighting for yards, porches and sidewalks. If you see a venomous reptile in your yard, it is probably just "passing through". However, if you are concerned about a dangerous animal in your yard, seek professional assistance in removing it.


There are 11 different species of rattlesnakes in Arizona and all are venomous. Venoms are complex poisons which vary greatly in composition and potency among species and individuals. In addition to rattles, all rattlesnakes share some common physical characteristics including a triangular shaped head, a facial pit, elliptical pupils and foldable fangs.

First Aid

In many cases, first aid performed in the field by the patient or companions only causes additional injury. Ice, incision and suction, tight tourniquets, administration of drugs or alcohol, and most recently, electric shock, have all been associated with complications negating their alleged benefits. These measures may also delay the patient's transortation to professional medical care. The following recommendations minimize the potential for complications or delays in treatment:
  1. Calm and reassure the patient.
  2. Remove any constricting items, such as jewelry, from the affected limb.
  3. When practical, immobilize the affected limb at approximately heart level.
  4. Do not bring the snake to the health care center for three reasons:
    1. the snake may bite again;
    2. capture may delay transportation to professional care; and
    3. management will not be significantly different.
  5. Be aware that making an incision carries an inherent risk of complications. Vacuum pump devices have been shown to remove up to 30% of the venom without an incision if applied within 3 minutes.

Coral Snakes

The Arizona coral snake is a small snake, with a characteristic pattern of black, yellow and red rings that encircle its body. This pattern distinguishes it from many look-alike nonvenomous snakes. The Arizona coral snake averages less than 2 feet.

It is a shy animal, rarely responsible for significant envenomations. There has never been a death attributed to the Arizona species.

The size of the snake and immobility of it's fangs make bites unlikely. Nontheless, this snake should NOT BE HANDLED. A bite will cause tiny puncture wounds, minimal pain, and swelling. Symptoms are often delayed. Complaints of drowsiness, apprehension, giddiness, nausea, vomiting and salivation can appear 1 to 7 hours after the bite.

First aid measures are of little value. You should withhold food, drink or medication. Do not delay transporting the victims to a medical facility.

Above info from Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center

How NOT to Treat a Snakebite

Though U.S. medical professionals may not agree on every aspect of what to do for snakebite first aid, they are nearly unanimous in their views of what not to do. Among their recommendations:
  • No ice or any other type of cooling on the bite. Research has shown this to be potentially harmful.
  • No tourniquets. This cuts blood flow completely and may result in loss of the affected limb.
  • No electric shock. This method is under study and has yet to be proven effective. It could harm the victim.
  • No incisions in the wound. Such measures have not been proven useful and may cause further injury.
Arizona physician David Hardy, M.D., says part of the problem when someone is bitten is the element of surprise. "People often aren't trained in what to do, and they are in a panic situation." He adds that preparation--which includes knowing in advance how to get to the nearest hospital--could greatly reduce anxiety and lead to more effective care.


Above info from US Food and Drug Administration.

More information about snake bites can be found here

Spider Safety

Spiders of Medical Importance

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Spiders as a whole are seldom aggressive, generally biting only when threatened or injured. Nearly all spiders have venom glands, but the toxicity of the venom to humans is so low as to be insignificant. The severity of the reaction to a spider bite is influenced by the species of spiders, the area of the body where the bite occurs, the amount of venom injected, and depth of the bite.

Widow Spiders

Four species of widow spiders occur in Florida: the southern black widow, the northern black widow, the red widow and the brown widow. All these species are rather large spiders about 1 1/2 inches long with the legs extended.

The southern black widow and the northern black widow are a shiny, jet-black color. The southern black widow has a red hourglass marking on the underside of the abdomen and another red spot at the tip end of the abdomen ( Figure 3). The northern black widow has a row of red spots located in the middle of its back and two reddish triangles resembling an hourglass on the underside of the abdomen. The red widow spider has a reddish orange head-thorax and legs with a black abdomen. The abdomen may have a dorsal row of red spots with a yellow border. The red widow lacks a complete hourglass under the abdomen but may have one or two red spots. The brown widow spider varies in color from gray to light brown or black. The abdomen has variable markings of black, white, red, and yellow. On the underside of the abdomen it has an orange or yellowish-red hourglass marking.

The life cycle of the widow spiders are all similar. The female lays approximately 250 eggs in an egg sac which is about 1/2 to 5/8 inch in diameter. The eggs hatch in 20 days and remain in the egg sac from about 4 days to 1 month. The young spiders then molt to the second stage and begin feeding. As the young spiders grow, they construct a loosely woven web and capture progressively larger prey. Male spiders molt 3 to 6 times before maturing. The females molt 6 to 8 times and occasionally eat the males after mating. In Florida all the widows except the northern black widow breed year-round.

The southern black widow is the most widespread widow spider in Florida. It is usually found outdoors in protected places such as in hollows of stumps, discarded building materials, rodent burrows, storm sewers, and under park benches and tables. Around houses, the southern black widow is found in garages, storage sheds, crawl spaces under buildings, furniture, ventilators, and rainspouts. The northern black widow is found west of Tallahassee. It is mainly found in forests with irregular, loosely woven webs 3-20 feet above the ground. The red widow spider makes its web off the ground in palmettos habitats and has only been found in sand-pine scrub associations. The web retreat is characterized by the rolled palmetto frond, and the web is spread over the fronds. The brown widow is found only in coastal cities located south of Daytona Beach where it usually lives on buildings in well-lighted areas.

Like most spiders, the widow spiders are shy and will not bite unless aggravated. All four species have a strong venom. The southern black widow is involved in most poisonous spider-bite cases in Florida. The bite of the black widow is not always felt, but usually feels like a pin prick. The initial pain disappears rapidly leaving a local swelling where two tiny red spots appear. Muscular cramps in the shoulder, thigh, and back usually begin within 15 minutes to 3 hours. In severe cases, later pain spreads to the abdomen, the blood pressure rises, there is nausea and profuse sweating, and difficulty in breathing occurs. Death may result from the venom, depending on the victim's physical condition, age, and location of the bite. However, death seldom occurs if a physician is consulted and treatment is prompt.

If you suspect that a widow spider has bitten you, capture the specimen for identification and immediately consult a physician. For additional information, your doctor may wish to contact your local poison control center.

Brown Recluse Spider

The brown recluse spider ( Figure 4) is not an established species in Florida, but physicians have diagnosed its bites. The brown recluse spider is recognized by having a dark violin-shaped mark located behind the eyes. There are 3 pair of eyes on this species while most spiders have 4 pair. The brown recluse is a medium-sized spider about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length.

The brown recluse spider's natural habitat is along the Mississippi River valley, especially in northwestern Arkansas and southern Missouri. Because it can live in old boxes and furniture it is easily transported by humans. Specimens of brown recluse spiders have been found in Florida, but there reproduce in Florida's environment.

The brown recluse spider is a shy species that bites humans when trapped in clothing or rolled onto when people sleep in bed. Persons bitten by the brown recluse usually do not feel pain for 2-3 hours. A sensitive person may feel pain immediately. A blister arises around the area of the bite. The local pain becomes intense with the wound sloughing tissue often down to the bone. Healing takes place slowly and may take 6 to 8 weeks. If the bite of a brown recluse spider is suspected, collect the spider and consult a physician immediately.


Tarantulas ( Figure 5) are not found naturally in Florida; however, some people keep tarantulas as pets. The term "tarantula" refers to about 300 species of spiders some of which can weigh 2 to 3 ounces and have a 10 inch leg span. Tarantulas are sluggish, will not bite unless provoked, and are not poisonous. However, the bites of tarantulas can be quite painful since the fangs are large and cause considerable mechanical damage to the victim.

Many tarantulas have a dense covering of stinging hairs on the abdomen to protect them from enemies. These hairs can cause skin irritation for humans. Most tarantulas that are desirable as pets have a bald spot on the abdomen and do not have stinging hairs.

Tarantulas usually live in burrows in the ground. These burrows may be dug by the spider or may be those abandoned by rodents. The tunnels are lined with silk and form a webbed rim at the entrance which conceals it. The females deposit 500 to 1000 eggs in a silken egg sac and guard it for 6 to 7 weeks. The young spiders remain in the burrow for some time after hatching and then disperse by crawling in all directions. Tarantulas do not occur in colonies since they do eat each other.

Tarantulas may live for many years. Most species require 10 years to mature to adults. Females kept in captivity have been known to live more than 25 years and have survived on water alone for 2 1/2 years. Females continue to molt after reaching maturity and therefore are able to regenerate lost legs. Males live for only one year or less after maturity.

A tarantula can be kept as a house pet. A terrarium (an empty aquarium) with a sandy bottom provides an ideal habitat. Tarantulas can be fed live crickets or other insects.