Perilous partners are everywhere. Many plants and animals in and around the home and garden are potentially toxic. It is important to be aware of these perilous partners so they may be kept far from the reach of children and pets.
Children are often attracted to the colorful fruits, blossoms, berries or leaves of plants, but must be taught to keep all plants out of their moths. Some of the most common house and garden plants have been found to possess the most toxic qualities.
Other perilous partners are encountered in yards, fields and woody areas. Contact with them should be avoided if possible. It is essential that children and adults understand the dangers involved in these perilous partners.
This web page is designed to acquaint you with some of the more common perilous snake and insect partners in Oklahoma. It's not intended to be all-inclusive. Contact the
for additional information. See our Plant Smarts page for information on "plant" hazards around the home.
While many life-long Oklahoma adult residents may be familiar with all the perilous partners discussed here, it should be a good reference for parents to use in teaching and discussing such hazards with their children, as well as for international students and OU students hailing from other U.S. states who might not be familiar with the "local wildlife". Some of the species discussed here are common throughout the Southwest U.S. and in some cases nationwide or internationally.
In the snake/insect descriptions below, click on any highlighted names/words to see detailed drawings, pictures and more information on that species:
BROWN RECLUSE SPIDER
The Brown Recluse spider is usually light brown in color. The spider's body is delicate, and its thin legs are longer than its body. This is not a fuzzy spider! The most prominent marking is a darker brown violin shape on the top side of the spider's middle section.
Unlike other spiders, the Brown Recluse has three pairs of eyes on its head that look like three tiny black dots. Brown recluse spiders like to hide, and they can live for long periods of time without food or water. These spiders are difficult to exterminate. prevention includes picking up clutter, avoidance of wearing clothes that have been on the floor, and checking bed sheets before retiring if the home is heavily infested. Control of spider food supplies, such as crickets, etc., is also helpful.
The victim is often unaware of the bite and has little early pain. Mild to severe pain usually develops in the bite area after two to eight hours. One or two tiny puncture holes may be seen at the site of the bite surrounded by a whitish and a reddish halo.
Blisters quickly form, and a dark purple center may be seen by the third or fourth day. Pain and itching usually increases. The bite area also feels hot, swollen, and firm to touch. In one or two weeks, this tissue dies and sloughs away as an open ulcer may form. If the wound is very large, it may become chronic and heal very slowly. Plastic surgery may be required. Early treatment is important.
Besides local skin effects, within 24 to 48 hours there may be fever, chills, weakness, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and a rash. Death is rare, but is a risk with serious reactions. If back pain, fever or dark urine develops, consult a physician immediately Serious symptoms may occur, particularly in children.
First Aid for Brown Recluse Spider Bites
TICKS are found in all parts of Oklahoma.
Oklahoma ticks include the lone star tick,
the American dog tick,
the brown dog tick,
and the black-legged tick or deer tick.
Most ticks are capable of transmitting a variety of diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Lyme Disease and even Tularemia.
Ticks may be found at various stages of development: larvae (see ticks), which have six legs, and nymphs and adults, which have eight legs. In Oklahoma, seed ticks or larvae are not thought to carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), but the adult American dog tick is the main carrier for RMSF in this state. The black-legged tick or deer tick may transmit Lyme disease, however this disease is not as big a problem as other tick diseases transmitted in Oklahoma.
First Aid for Tick Bites
Avoiding Exposure to Ticks
The Oklahoma State Department of Health recommends using tick repellants containing the ingredient DEET (for skin and/or repellents containing Permethrin (for clothing only) and recommends "tick checks" every two to three hours if spending a lot of time outdoors.
BEES, WASPS, HORNETS, AND YELLOWJACKETS.
Bees have a stinger attached to a venom sac that is left in the wound when the sting occurs. Wasps and hornets sting without leaving a stinger in the wound. Wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets may sting repeatedly and stings can easily become infected.
Although stings normally cause only a painful wound, serious allergic reactions have occurred in some people. Multiple stings, especially to the head or neck, are more serious and can be life threatening. While most wasps and hornets prefer aboveground nests, yellowjackets also are known to often build underground nests, containing as many as 6,000 cells.
The most aggressive of the wasps in Oklahoma, yellowjackets usually do not attack unless they are protecting their food source (such as your uncovered trash can) or their nests. They may also be attracted to the sweet liquid in hummingbird feeders.
As with most Oklahoma wasps and bees, only yellowjacket queens survive the winter (through hibernation)to start new nests, and only produce a handful of workers in the first month, so eliminating a household area nest early in the spring is important if you want to avoid dealing with a large colony all summer/fall.
Avoid wearing fuzzy, dark-colored clothing as yellowjackets have evolved to attack dark furry objects when confronted. If stung, leave the area immediately (indoors if possible) because yellowjackets release a strong pheromone that attracts any nearby nestmates and signals them to attack you as well.
First Aid for Bee, Wasp, Hornet, and Yellowjacket Stings
Some experts suggest, as a bee sting remedy, to apply baking soda and meat tenderizer in a water paste to reduce venom spread and swelling, and to take antihistamine to lessen swelling and mild allergic responses.
General Advice for Avoiding Bees, Wasps, Hornets, and Yellowjackets:
There are only a few scorpion species found in Oklahoma and only one is very common: The bark scorpion.
It's about two inches long, semi-translucent yellowish tan in color, and is commonly found under loose bark on trees, under lumber/firewood stacks, and under any other object on the ground.
They are nocturnal hunters, preying on spiders, other insects, and well, anything else they can overwhelm. When camping in Oklahoma, use of floored tents with door netting zipped should keep your sleeping bag free from their nocturnal wanderings.
Scorpion trivia: These scorpions glow greenish-yellow under a black light.
All scorpions in Oklahoma can produce a painful sting, but serious life threatening symptoms are rare. Swelling is generally limited. Sensation of numbness and tingling (due to the type of hemotoxins and neurotoxins in the venom) may occur in the area of the sting for four to six hours, but usually disappear in 24 hours.
Though a significant problems in some countries, no scorpion sting-related deaths have been reported in the U.S. for over 30 years, partially due to the availability of antivenin.
Though the toxins in scorpion stings are very different than in most bee/wasp type stings, first aid is similar to the treatment of a wasp sting. (See General First Aid notes, below.)
Oklahoma has many different species of snakes. Most Oklahoma snakes are non-venomous. the bite of a non-venomous snake can cause pain and infection, but is rarely serious. There are three types of venomous snakes in Oklahoma and their bites can cause serious illness and even death.
The first type of venomous snakes in Oklahoma is the "rattlesnake". Eastern diamondback and Western diamondback rattlesnakes have facial pits, elliptical, rather than round, pupils, and a triangularly shaped head that is larger than the neck.
(There is a water snake in Oklahoma with a triangularly shaped head, but no facial pits on the side of its head between its eyes and nostril. This is not a venomous snake!)
Diamondback rattlesnake venom is the most potent of the three venomous species in Oklahoma. A diamondback rattlesnake can lunge about two-thirds of its body length. Thus, a six-foot long diamondback can strike you from about four feet away! Give them a wide berth!
While you may enjoy camping and hiking throughout Oklahoma and never see a rattlesnake, if you do see one (or hear a loud distinctive rattling noise) be alert! Hiking on warm summer nights is a likely time for such a rare encounter, as that's when they are often out searching for something to eat.
Diamondbacks generally come out of hibernation and venture out of there dens as temperatures begin to warm in May-June and may be seen "sunning themselves" to on the ground or on warm rocks to maintain their body temperature during both late spring and early fall. During the warmer summer months they will rarely venture out into the heat of the day and instead hunt by night.
The pygmy rattlesnake, and other types of rattlesnakes can also be found in Oklahoma, but the diamondbacks account for most of the encounters and bites. Pygmy rattlesnakes, including the massasauga, prey primarily on lizards, frogs, and other smaller snakes.
Mature pygmy rattlers are generally only one and one-half to two feet in length. They generally hide and use their rattle as a lure to their prey. Their very small rattles make only a slight buzzing noise (much less than the noise of another type of rattlesnake of similar size) that usually can only be heard a few feet away.
Pygmy rattlesnakes' primary defensive mechanism is to remain motionless. Thus, they are very unlikely to rattle to warn humans of their presence. They are more likely to warn predators (and humans) by rapid head twitches than by rattling. A "warm" pygmy rattler (such as one active and crossing a road) is more likely to attack as a defense mechanism than a "cold" one (such as one coiled and hiding.)
The other two venomous snakes are the cotton-mouth (also known as the water moccasin), and the copperhead.
The mature Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin) is generally dark black in color with a lighter belly, and is known as a "cottonmouth" because of a very light, white mouth in contrast to its very dark, black body. Although most Oklahoma venomous snakes are not aggressive and will not attack humans unless crowded or provoked, some cottonmouths have been reported to exhibit a more aggressive behavior.
Unlike the very dark mature water moccasins, a "juvenile" water moccasin is brightly colored with copper, black, and tan markings, similar to a young copperhead. Very young water moccasins also have a bright greenish-yellow tail, which gradually fades as they mature. This coloration for the young snakes is a protective mechanism (camouflage) to help it blend with fallen leaves and other ground clutter.
Copperheads are copper (reddish brown) and tan with a broad, flat reddish brown head, and somewhat "hourglass-shaped" coloration patterns on their bodies.
They are generally smallish (2 to 3 feet in length) compared to many rattlesnakes 3 to 6 feet) or cottonmouths (3 to 5 feet long). Copperheads can live up to thirty years, but most live less than eight years.
Copperheads are non-aggressive and take a defensive posture only when threatened. A copperhead may shake it's tail - like a rattlesnake - (even though it has no rattles) which may make noise in dry leaves and help draw attention to the snake if you're crowding it unintentionally.
Like rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, the copperhead is a pit viper, and can hunt for prey by day or night. In the heat of summer copperheads generally only come out at night to hunt (mice, small birds, frogs, etc.) In the spring and fall they will come out during the day. They're most active from April till late October. They are fairly social snakes and may "winter" in a communal den with other copperheads or other species of snakes such as timber rattlesnakes and black rat snakes.
While the venom of a copperhead is relatively weak (compared to most rattlesnakes) and rarely fatal, bite victims should seek medical help immediately, just as with any other Oklahoma venomous snake bite.
Juvenile copperheads usually have a bright greenish-yellow tail, similar to young cottonmouths.
A picture guide to snakes can be found in the publication, "Reptiles of Oklahoma," available from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife.
First Aid for Non-Venomous Snake Bite
First Aid for Venomous Snake Bite
DO NOT cut off the blood supply to the wound area.
DO NOT apply a constricting band around a joint, head, neck or around the trunk of the body.
DO NOT cut into the wound - this will spread the venom and cause infection.
DO NOT suck on the wound with your mouth - this will cause infection and little venom will actually be removed.
DO NOT apply a tourniquet to the wound - this cuts off the blood supply to the wound.
While many experts disagree on what to do for treating snakebites, almost all agree on the above listed things not to do!
Avoiding Snake Bites
Some snake bites, such as those inflicted when snakes are accidentally stepped on otherwise unexpectedly encountered in wilderness settings, are almost impossible to prevent, but a few precautions can lower the risk of being bitten:
Leave snakes alone. Many people are bitten because they try to kill a snake or get a closer look at it.
If you encounter a snake, stay out of a snake's striking distance (at least a snake-length away; most snakes can only strike half to two-thirds their own length.) Walk around the snake! Oklahoma venomous snakes, with the possible exception of the water moccasin, are non-aggressive and won't attack unless crowded, threatened, or surprised.
Stay out of tall grass unless you wear thick leather boots, and remain on hiking paths as much as possible.
Keep hands and feet out of areas you can't see. Be careful when picking up rocks or firewood.
Be cautious and alert when climbing rocks.
Click on the graphic on the right to put your knowledge to the test:
Chiggers are different from other mites, in that they feed on humans and other animals only in the larval stage. The adults and nymphs feed on vegetable matter, insect eggs, and other insects.
While difficult to see individually, the are often visible in groups on plant leaves as very, very tiny red bugs (hence the name "Red Bug" that's also applied to the chigger mite.)
When humans come in contact with infested grass or other vegetation, the chigger larvae get onto the skin and travel until they meet an obstacle like a waistband. At this point, they attach to the skin and begin to feed.
After feeding for three to four days, the larvae drop off the body to continue their growth cycle. When feeding, the larvae secrete a fluid that causes intense itching.
Within twenty-four hours of attachment, a reddened area up to one inch in diameter will appear, which may be accompanied by a blister. Continued itching is usually due to a delayed sensitivity reaction which may persist for several weeks.
First Aid for Chigger Bites
Avoiding Exposure to Chiggers
Imported fire ants were introduced to the United States in Alabama around 1920. In many areas, they have nearly wiped out local ant populations. Fire ants have now made it to the Norman area.
Fire ant stings are similar to bee stings, but they do not leave the stinger in the skin and symptoms tend to last longer. The ant attaches to the skin with its jaws and then may sting several times. This sting usually causes immediate, intense pain and formation of a blister or pustule that can easily become infected.
Fire ant venom may also cause local tissue damage, though not as much as that of the Brown Recluse spider. As with bee stings, severe, life-threatening allergic reactions are possible.
These non-venomous creatures do not bite or sting. As a self-defense mechanism, millipedes may give off a foul smelling liquid that can be irritating enough to cause blisters.
Do not handle these creatures. Millipedes have a cylindrical body divided into several segments. Each segment has two pairs of legs.
Centipedes have flattened bodies, long antennae, and only one pair of legs on each body segment.
Centipede bites produce immediate pain, redness, itching and swelling that can persist for several hours. Swollen glands, irregular pulse, headache, dizziness, and vomiting care less commonly seen.
Consult a physician if these symptoms occur. Death has not been reported in the United States. First aid is the same as for a wasp sting. (See the section, below, on General First Aid.)
Fine hairs that act like hypodermic needles to inject venom cover some stinging caterpillars. Symptoms are usually minor and self-limiting. Mild pain, swelling, redness and itching can be expected at the site. If they're pretty (colorful) and fuzzy, that's usually a good sign that they're dangerous.
Colorful caterpillars are colored to warn away predators. Green, hard-to-spot caterpillars are less likely to be venomous and more likely to be depending on camouflage to protect them. (Of course the green, hard-to-spot ones are less likely to be seen by and attractive to humans to pick up and look at...)
First Aid for Caterpillar Stings
Wide masking tape can be applied to the site area to lift these tiny airs from the skin. To avoid further injury, the area should not be rubbed until these hairs are removed. The wound area should then be washed with soap and water and treated the same as the General First Aid outline, below.
FOR BITES AND STINGS
If you think you may be allergic to stinging insects, see an allergist who can verify your hypersensitivity by performing a scratch skin test or intradermal skin test.
Most physicians recommend that persons with demonstrated hypersensitivity wear an identification tag and carry a small sting emergency kit, containing antihistamines and a syringe of epinephrine. Such kits are relatively inexpensive and are available with a doctor's prescription.
People at especially high risk of a fatal reaction should consult their physician to consider desensitization procedures that gradually build up a tolerance to venom and reduce the likelihood of a serious systemic reaction.
The source for much of the information contained on this web page is the brochure, "Oklahoma's Perilous Partners" produced by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and from Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service publications. For further information, contact the
Further information on dangerous insects discussed here, and their control, can be downloaded in various documents available in .PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Insect Publications page.
since February 13, 1998
The Police Notebook, Copyright © 1997-2008,
Sponsor: OU Police Dept. — Developer: Richard Hamilton, OUPD