Here in Southern Arizona we have dangerous critters, including bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes & scorpions. However, as terrifying as an encounter with any one of these beasties can be, people are far more likely to die of hypothermia or dehydration than from any of our most dangerous animals.
Generally, our dangerous critters don't want anything to do with you. If they can, they will move away at your approach. So, be respectful and give them their space. They were here first.
The following is a sample of our most infamous critters. I mention them, not because I want to frighten you, but because I want you to be aware for your own safety ... and theirs.
Yup, we got'em. Not only that, we have at least 5 different kinds. Western Diamondback; Mohave; Tiger; Blacktail; and Sidewinder. I remove a half dozen or so from our yard every spring and summer. I really don't care what kind they are. They're just not allowed in our yard. Rattlesnake season is roughly April - November. I am told that Mating season is June, but I have seen many mating pairs in August. I am told that birthing season is August, but I have seen many baby rattlers in April. Go Figure.
To be sure, given their size, can still be hard to spot. The biggest one I ever caught in my yard was almost 15 feet long and weighed more than 300 pounds. OK, just kidding. He was a Diamondback, maybe five and a half feet long, and seriously upset when I picked him up with my handy snake grabber to transport him out of my yard. How do I know he was a he? I don't. And don't care. (Discuss the sexuality of snakes with your local herpetologist. Way beyond my pay grade.)
Rattlesnakes are incredibly hard to spot. You can be standing within a foot of one and never know it ... unless of course it rattles. Evolution has given them an outer coating that blends wonderfully with their desert surroundings. I've almost stepped on one more than once. Be watchful.
Don't Kill Them!
Mind you, I don't kill them and I don't want you to kill them either. Two reasons. First, they have just as much right to live here as you and me. Second, they are extremely useful. Without rattlesnakes, we would be overrun with rodents, particularly pack rats. You ever see what a pack rat can do to a car? Leave your car parked for a couple of days and chances are good that pack rats will build a humongous nest under the hood. And for recreation, or when they are sexually frustrated, they will chew through your engine's wiring. Big $$$.
What should you do if you are bit by a rattlesnake?
First, take it seriously. I suppose it may be necessary to convince some people that a rattlesnake bite is a VERY serious injury. At first, it may not even hurt.That will soon change. Understand this: once the venom has been injected into your flesh, the snake has already begun to digest you. If you insist on seeing pictures of the damage a rattler's bite can do to humans, just go to Google Images; rattlesnake bite. Warning: it's seriously ugly.
Second, carry really good health insurance. Hospital treatment for a poisonous snake bit can cost between $20,000 & $100,000.That antivenom stuff is more precious than gold.
Third, DON'T PANIC! In Africa, thousands of people are killed every year by poisonous snakes. Why? Because they don't have access to a hospital with ANTIVENOM. You do. Get to the nearest hospital ASAP without causing an accident.
Fourth, whatever you learned as a Boy or Girl Scout about treating a snake bite, forget. Old wife's tales. Go to the nearest hospital. Do not use heat or ice. Thus, it's always a good idea to take your smart phone with you on a hike ... just in case. (Not that you will always have an active phone or even an accurate GPS in the back country.)
You want to learn about this fascinating, successful creature? Go to the Desert Museum. They have lots of 'em and knowledgeable docents. At the Desert Museum program called "Live and On The Loose" they actually give you the demographic most likely to get bit by a rattler.
- Gender: Male. Young: 18-35. Distinguishing Feature: Tattoo.
- Famous Last Words: "Here, hold my beer and watch this."
Mountain Lions (couger, puma)
These days, mountain lions are extremely rare. Ranchers killed off most of them a hundred years ago. Amazingly, we still have some, usually found in the mountains (that's why they're called 'mountain' lions).
If you spot one at a distance on a hike, consider yourself most fortunate. If you spot a hungry one close up, consider yourself in serious trouble. I don't need to go into detail here about what to do. Naturalist Dan Granger tells you precisely how to explain to a mountain lion that you're not dinner in our Sabino Canyon video. Watch it.
Gila Monsters are the only poisonous lizard in Arizona. The only other is the Beaded Lizard found in Southern Sonora. Gila Monsters are slow moving, but if they latch on to you, you will be hard pressed to "unlatch" them. Consider yourself lucky if you run across one, slow if you get bitten. Gila Monster bites are not considered to be fatal to healthy humans, rather excrutiatingly painful.
A scorpion sting will not kill you. It will only make you wish you were dead.
Ms. Karen is one tough cookie. I’ve known her for three decades and have witnessed her endure serious pain without a whimper.
Then one day she was putting on some boots that had been lying on the floor for several days. Suddenly, I heard her scream in pain and terror as she tried frantically to extricate foot from footwear. You guessed it. A scorpion had made its home in the toe of the right boot and stung her on the foot.
Tears of agony streamed down her cheeks. We called poison control to inquiry as to remedies. We were told not to worry, the worst of the pain would subside in a few hours. Oh, and one more thing. If Ms. Karen went into shock, I was to transport her to the nearest emergency room.
For the remainder of the day, she languished in bed, heavily sedated with whatever pain pills we had in our medicine cabinet. Moral of this little story? Don’t get stung by a scorpion. In the ensuing years, I have noticed that Ms. Karen is much more circumspect about where she puts her hands and feet. Now she keeps her shoes on a shoe rack and NEVER throws her clothes on the floor or on the ground.
I have also noticed that she is much more conscientious about spraying around the house. We use an insecticide that kills scorpions, roaches, spiders, etc., but does no harm to the critters that feed on them. You can get some at the Do-It-Yourself Pest Control place on North Oracle. While scorpions can slither through cracks as thin as a credit card, we seldom have insects make it into our Tucson home. And if they do get inside, they usually die from the spray residue within an hour. And if they don’t, Ms. Karen administers the coup de grace with a loud SMACK from the sole of a shoe. No more Ms. Nice Gal.