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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
Oklahoma Poison Control Center
at 1-800-222-1222
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:

(Fiddleback 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
  1. Give general first aid as outlined. (See the General First Aid section at the end of this web page.)
  2. No antidote is currently available
  3. If the spider is identified as a Brown Recluse, or if a dark center develops at the wound site, consult a physician.

Other Spiders:

Black Widows
Jumping Spiders

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
  1. To remove the tick, use tweezers, if available. Grasp (don't squeeze) the tick as close to the skin as possible and remove with a steady slow pulling motion. Seed ticks may be removed with the same shampoo that is used for treating body lice. Consult your pharmacist.
    • Another method for removing seed ticks involves the use of 2" masking tape. Place the adhesive side over the tick and slowly peel off. This will frequently remove the tick. Wash hands thoroughly after removing the tick.

  2. DO NOT use a match to make the tick move.
    • DO NOT cover the tick in any cream or Vaseline, as it will make removal difficult.
    • DO NOT handle the tick.

  3. Be very careful not to crush the body of the tick, as that may cause it to inject its stomach contents into the wound.
  4. After removing the tick, examine the bite area for any tick parts remaining in the wound. A magnifying glass may be helpful. Contact a physician for head removal.
  5. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
  6. Mark the date of the bite on the calendar
  7. Watch for any flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle pain, extreme fatigue, headaches, chills joint pain, swollen glands, or a rash, develop at the site of the bite within three days to two months after the bite, see your physician. Lyme disease symptoms may not develop for up to two months.

Avoiding Exposure to Ticks
  1. When walking in a wooded or tick-infested area, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a cap or scarf on the head, and tuck pants legs into socks. Masking tape (doubled so the adhesive side is out) placed around the cuffs of pants can entrap ticks and taped cuffs help limit exposure.
  2. Wear light-colored clothing on which the ticks can easily be seen.
  3. Examine all family members and pets for ticks after outings in tick infested areas.
  4. Examine pets frequently for embedded ticks. Don't handle ticks. Disease may be transmitted by improper removal and disposal.

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 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.

More information:

Social Wasps:
Baldfaced hornets
Paper Wasps

Solitary Wasps:
Cicada Killer
Spider Wasps

Honey Bees
Bumble Bees
Carpenter Bees
Sweat Bees

First Aid for Bee, Wasp, Hornet, and Yellowjacket Stings
  1. For a honey bee sting, remove the stinger from the wound by scraping a blunt object, such as a dull knife, across the wound. Do not remove stinger with fingers or tweezers because the venom sac will be crushed and inject venom into the wound.
  2. Symptoms usually resolve within a few hours. If symptoms such as difficulty breathing or rapid, severe swelling occurs, call a doctor. Toxic signs are vomiting, dizziness, headaches, chest pain, and fainting.

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:
  1. Don't wear perfume or scented lotions.
  2. Control odors when camping, picnicking, and around your garbage cans at home, especially in the fall when foraging yellowjackets are most numerous. Click here for more, specific, information on odor control.
  3. Avoid brightly colored clothing which may look like the color of flowers to an insect, and shiny objects which may look like water reflections. Wear tan, khaki, and dark-colored clothes.
  4. Relocate or destroy any nests near your home.
  5. Don't leave sugary drinks outside unattended, and use covered containers to limit their odor. It doesn't take a yellowjacket very long at all to find a warm cola can sitting in the sun. Don't throw watery drinks in the grass when the ice melts. Take them into the house to pour it out.
  6. Don't picnic, sit, or stand near trash cans, fallen fruit, or other wasp/yellowjacket feeding sites.
  7. Don't swat or move rapidly when a wasp visits you or your food; move slowly! (Easier said than done.)
  8. Don't approach a nest; if you do disturb a nest, RUN AWAY from attacking wasps. (Was it really necessary for us to tell you that?)
  9. Do clean up food and drink refuse, clean trash cans, and fit them with a tight lid to reduce wasp visits. Let them go be a hazard around someone else's trash can!
  10. When in recreation areas, check your food and drinks before consumption! Stings inside the mouth and throat are particularly dangerous because of the potential of swelling and closing off the windpipe.
  11. Because a yellowjacket may have been rooting around in your garbage can before stinging you, properly treat the sting, even if it doesn't hurt, as a secondary infection may develop.

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
  1. Remove all rings, bracelets, watch or other jewelry from the bitten hand or shoes from the foot of the bitten leg.
  2. Wash the wound with soap and water.
  3. Place a cold pack or ice pack on the wound, 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off.
  4. Keep bite area at or below level of heart.
  5. Keep victim calm. Do not give sedative or alcohol

First Aid for Venomous Snake Bite
  1. Stay calm. Do not waste time trying to capture or kill the snake.
  2. Follow general first aid, except DO NOT apply an ice pack or cold pack to the wound and keep the bite at the level of the heart. Research has shown that using ice/cold packs on snake bite wounds is potentially harmful.
  3. Apply a light constricting band one to two inches wide (NOT a tourniquet) two to four inches above the bite. The band should be snug, but not tight. It should be loose enough to slip one finger underneath the band and a pulse should be clearly felt below the band.

    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.

  4. Proceed immediately to a hospital for evaluation and treatment of venomous snake bite. An antivenin is available, but is reserved for patients with life threatening symptoms.

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:

The Great Snake 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
  1. Treatment consists of reducing discomfort and preventing infection. Household remedies aimed at killing the chigger are unlikely to help with the itching, since the larva frequently have dropped off before treatment is started.
  2. The affected area should be kept clean by washing with soap and water.
  3. A topical hydrocortisone cream, antihistamine, or local anesthetic may be of value in reducing the itching. Consult your physician or pharmacist.
  4. If signs of infection occur, consult your physician.

Avoiding Exposure to Chiggers
  1. Avoid uncultivated areas and heavy vegetation where chiggers are known to exist, if possible.
    • If that type of avoidance is not possible, then clothing should fit snugly at any possible entry point for the chigger, such as at the ankles, wrists, and collar.
  2. When Camping, use a cot in order to avoid contact with the ground. Floored tents will help, as long as you don't track them in on your boots. When backpacking, seal "dirty" clothes in plastic bag after use so any chiggers or ticks on them won't contaminate your clean clothes in the pack. Alternately keep all clean clothes in plastic bags until you need to wear them. (Let any dirty clothes air-dry before bagging to prevent mildew if possible.)
  3. Insect repellents may be beneficial in preventing the attachment of chiggers, if applied every 2 to 3 hours. Spray (or otherwise apply) lightly on possible entry points, as discussed above.

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.


  1. Wash bite/sting area well with soap and water.
  2. Place an ice pack or cold compress on the wound intermittently (15 minutes on and 15 minutes off). Never place ice directly on the skin.
  3. Elevate and rest the wounded area to decrease swelling.
    • Do not use heat.
  4. If a tetanus vaccination has not been given within the last five to seven years, consult a physician.
  5. Normal reaction: within minutes a small red area appears at the site of injury, gradually surrounded by a whitish and a reddish flare. A whelp or raised are forms that may itch, be hot to touch, and feel irritated. These symptoms usually subside in a few hours except from the bites or stings of a few creatures.
  6. Observe for signs of a severe allergic reaction such as wheezing, difficulty breathing or rapid, severe swelling, abdominal cramps, vomiting, dizziness, chest tightness, hoarseness, or blue discoloration to lips. If these signs occur, go to an emergency room or consult a physician immediately.
  7. Victims especially at risk for complications are children under three years of age, heart patients, diabetic patients, elderly or debilitated patients and persons with allergies. Multiple stings/bites, especially to the neck and head, may be particularly serious. Consult a physician immediately.
  8. Do not handle biting or stinging creatures. However, when possible, save the animal for later identification. Small creatures can be killed by dropping in scalding water or freezing without changing their appearance. Emergency rooms do not like LIVE specimens! Identification may be important for treatment and for predicting diseases these creatures may carry.
Do not waste time trying to catch snakes.

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.

Environmental Note

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
Oklahoma Poison Control Center
at 1-800-222-1222

Click HERE to jump to the Oklahoma Poison Control Center website
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.

Click HERE to jump to The Great Snake Test!

since February 13, 1998

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