Every environment has its share of critters, and the Arizona mountains and deserts are home to quite a variety of stinging and biting ones, some of which can be poisonous: mosquitos, ticks, bees, wasps, scorpions (photo), tarantulas, black widows, mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, skunks, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, chuckwallas, centipedes & giant Arizona centipedes to name a few. Rabies can also be a problem. So avoid contact with the local inhabitants of the areas where you hike. It’s a good idea to inspect yourself after a hike to make sure you haven’t picked up any “hitch-hikers” (such as ticks). Most critters prefer to avoid confrontations with humans, so usually if you back off, they will go their separate way. It’s always fun and interesting to see these creatures in their natural environment, but you don’t want to startle a skunk or rattler! The consequences could be at the least, unpleasant, or pose a serious medical threat. So be alert while on the trail, and make sure you know how to react. Don’t tempt animals with food. Even a cute little squirrel can turn into a dangerous animal under the right set of circumstances.
Bug bites can be an annoyance, but are usually just that and not dangerous. However, some insects can do some damage. The bugs to be most aware of are scorpions, black widows, Africanized bees & brown recluse spiders. Scorpions sting rather than bite. Most scorpion stings are not dangerous; however the Bark scorpion can be. Treat like a rattlesnake bite (see below). Bites or stings from the other insects mentioned are rarely fatal in adults, but may cause you some discomfort for a time.
There are other kinds of animals that you need to watch out for in desert environments as well: mountain lions, coyotes, ticks, etc. Look at this poster to see what to do if you find yourself face to face with an animal that seems inclined to cause you harm.
Additional/optional reading: Venomous & Poisonous Animals in Arizona: A Quick Reference
Yes, there is a possibility that we will see a snake along the trail. It’s been known to happen. Many snakes that reside in the Verde Valley are perfectly harmless. However, as you well know, there are some to watch out for. Rattlers will usually announce themselves, and will only attack when they feel threatened or aggravated. So the best way to avoid a close encounter with a snake of the venomous kind is to steer clear, and give them room to retreat.
You’ll know when you get bitten by a snake. If the bite swells and changes color, it was probably a venonous bite. Immobilize the area (use a splint if possible); remove jewelry or constricting items. Keep bite area lower than the heart and seek medical attention immediately.
More tips for dealing with snakes:
- DO NOT use ice to cool the bite.
- DO NOT cut open the wound and try to suck out the venom.
- DO NOT use a tourniquet. This will cut off blood flow and the limb may be lost.
- Avoid rattlesnakes altogether. If you see one, don’t try to get closer to it or catch it. The majority of rattlesnake bites occur when people aggravate the snake, or try to show off in front of their friends.
- Keep your hands and feet away from areas where you cannot see, like between rocks or in tall grass where rattlesnakes like to rest.
Plants Can be Mean Too
Arizona is also full of prickly plants, as well as some that are poisonous to the touch or to ingest. So NEVER NEVER NEVER EVER eat anything out on the trail unless you’re sure you know what it is, and that it is safe.
Cactus spines can do some serious damage if you happen to land in the center of one. You’ll want to have some tweezers handy for pulling out all those prickers before they have a chance to cause an infection. Other plants are prone to cause allergic reactions in the form of skin rashes: poison oak, poison ivy, and sumac (photo). There are products available to prevent the oils from their leaves from penetrating your skin, and other products that will cleanse your skin to mitigate their effect. It’s good to have these products handy if you’ll be hiking in an area where these plants grow. Poison ivy enjoys riparian environments, so be especially cautious when hiking along water sources such as Oak Creek. Here’s a good article for reference/ further optional reading on 3 Ways to Treat Poison Ivy & Poison Oak.