main banner

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Venomous wildlife can be annoying but won't kill you

We’ve got some dangerous wildlife around Annandale, but not as much as you might think, says Suzanne Holland, director of the Hidden Oaks Nature Center.

Holland always has local children enthralled when she teaches them about the natural world, and her presentation on venomous snakes and poisonous plants Saturday afternoon was no exception.

The only venomous snake native to Fairfax County is the copperhead. People nearly always survive a copperhead bite, although your leg might turn black, she says. There has never been a death from a copperhead in Virginia, and there have only been two deaths in the country, and those cases involved multiple bites from multiple copperheads.
Suzanne Holland presents a lesson
on venomous creatures
Copperheads are called pit vipers, because they have pits on their faces that can sense heat. They can detect a person’s hand from three feet away.

Many people mistakently think black rat snakes are copperheads, Holland says. They look like baby copperheads and scare off predators by acting aggressively.

People sometimes find black rate snakes in their basements, where they go in search of mice and often can’t find their way out.

When people see a snake in the water, they often think it’s a cottonmouth, Holland says. But it’s more likely a northern water snake, as we don’t have cottonmouths here.

Jump out of the water anyway, she advises, as northern water snakes do bite and although they aren’t poisonous, their saliva has anticoagulants in it which means you will bleed a lot.

Rat snake
Garter snakes aren’t dangerous, but they do bite and their venom has a mild sedative in it that can immobilize prey.

There aren’t any rattlesnakes here, although the timber rattlesnake can be found in the Shenandoah area. We do have black snakes that scare away predators by swishing their tails around in a pile of leaves which makes them sound like a rattler.

It's easy to tell if a snake is venomous: They have slit-shaped eyes, while non venomous snakes have round eyes, Holland said. The shredded skin of a venomous snake has one line of scales, while a non-venomous one has two.

We also have black widow spiders here. Contrary to what most people believe, they won’t kill you. Getting bit usually feesls like a sting and could make you nauseous.

A volunteer sweeping cobwebs around the Hidden Oaks windowsills recently found 14 black widow spiders, all of them guarding their egg sacs. The males are harmless, and the females only bite when they’re guarding their eggs, Holland says.

Black widows are the only venomous spiders native to Northern Virginia but the brown recluse spider has been moving in from the Midwest. A bite from a brown recluse can make your skin rot away.
An unusal cauliflower fungus
at Hidden Oaks
Deer ticks, which spend most of their time on mice, are dangerous because they cause Lyme disease. If you are bit, see a doctor right away, Holland advises, because Lyme disease usually takes about two months to show up.

Holland explained the difference between a venomous animal—which injects a toxic substance into its prey by biting—and a poisonous creature like a toad or ladybug—which has toxins on its surface.

The only way a toad could hurt you is if you eat it. The poison, which oozes out of its skin, makes a dog spit it out.

Be alert but don’t be afraid of wildlife, Holland told the audience. Each year in the United States, about four  people die from spider bites and five from snake bites. Compare that to the 10 to 20 people who die from dog attacks, 32 to 100 who die from bees and wasps, and the 6,500 who die from drowning.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center, 7701 Royce St., Annandale, has several programs every week. Check out the listings on our blog calendar.

No comments:

Post a Comment