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Seeing animals in their natural habitat is always a pleasure, but it's wise to remember that they are the permanent residents of the backcountry while we humans are the visitors. Treat animals with respect, give them enough space so they won't feel threatened by your presence, and properly manage your food storage, and they seldom will present a risk to your safety.

When it comes to insects, accept the fact that there are lots more of them than there are of us, and that some will be delighted to take a bite out of you. Reduce the likelihood of that happening by applying repellents or by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and head nets.

For more on wildlife, see the "Leaving No Trace" section of this book, and the chapters titled "Observing Nature" and "Wildlife." For more on insect repellents, see the chapter titled "Hot-Weather Travel and Camping."

Incident Response for Animal-Caused Injuries

In the event that you are scratched or bitten by an animal, seek medical attention; a physician must determine whether antibiotic, rabies, or other treatment will be necessary.


For guidelines on managing risk in bear country, see the chapter titled "Traveling and Camping in Special Environments."

Bee and Wasp Stings

Scrape away a bee stinger with the edge of a knife blade, but don't squeeze the sac attached to the stinger—that might force more venom into the skin. An ice pack or cool compress might reduce pain and swelling. Watch for any indications of anaphylactic shock.

Tick Bites

Ticks are small bloodsucking arthropods that bury their heads in the flesh of their hosts. Protect yourself whenever you are in tick-infested woodlands and fields by wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt with snug cuffs and collar. Button your collar and tuck the cuffs of your pants into your boots or socks. Inspect yourself and other group members daily, especially the hairy parts of the body, and immediately remove any ticks you find.

If a tick has attached itself, grasp it with tweezers close to the skin and gently pull until it comes loose. Don't squeeze, twist, or jerk the tick, as that might leave its mouthparts in the skin. Wash the wound with soap and water, and apply antibiotic ointment. After dealing with a tick, thoroughly wash your hands. If a tick has been embedded more than a day or poses difficulties in removal, see a physician.

Lyme disease is an illness carried by some ticks. A red ringlike rash might appear around the bite. A victim might feel lethargic and have flulike symptoms, fever, a sore throat, and muscle aches. Anyone experiencing these symptoms in the days and weeks following a trek adventure, especially activities in areas where ticks are known to carry Lyme disease, should be checked by a physician.

Chigger Bites

Almost invisible, chiggers burrow into skin pores where they cause small welts and itching. Try not to scratch chigger bites. You might find some relief by covering chigger bites with hydrocortisone cream or by dabbing them with clear fingernail polish.

Spider Bites

The bite of a female black widow spider can cause redness and sharp pain at the wound site. The victim might suffer sweating, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain and cramps, severe muscle pain and spasms, and shock; breathing might become difficult.

The bite of a brown recluse spider might not hurt right away, but within two to eight hours there can be pain, redness, and swelling at the wound. An open sore is likely to develop. The victim might suffer fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and a faint rash.

Victims of spider bites should be seen by a physician as soon as possible.

Scorpion Stings

Scorpions might startle you if you find them underneath your tent or ground cloth, or shake them out of your boots first thing in the morning. They usually are more imposing than they are dangerous, and scorpions that can cause humans serious injury are uncommon. Ordinary scorpion stings usually are not as dangerous as bee stings; they can cause severe, sharp pain, swelling, and discoloration, but generally have no lasting ill effects. If you are stung, cool the wound area with cold water or ice and seek medical attention.


Snakes are found in many parts of the country, but bites from them are rare. Snakes try to avoid humans, usually striking only when cornered or surprised. Use a hiking stick to poke among stones and brush ahead of you when you walk through areas where snakes are common. Watch where you put your hands as you collect firewood or climb over rocks and logs. Snakebites seldom result in death.

The bite of a nonpoisonous snake causes only minor puncture wounds and requires only ordinary first aid for small wounds—scrubbing with soap and water, then treating with an antiseptic.

A poisonous snakebite might cause the victim to feel sharp, burning pain. The area around the bite might swell and become discolored. However, a poisonous snake does not inject venom every time it bites. Know which poisonous snakes are native to the area you plan to hike, and know how to identify them.

Snakes are not warm-blooded and so cannot carry rabies, though any bite that breaks the skin has the potential of causing infection.

Incident Response for Poisonous Snakebite

Get the victim under medical care as soon as possible so that physicians can neutralize the venom. A person who has been bitten by a poisonous snake might not be affected by the venom for an hour or more. Within that time, the closer to medical attention you can get the victim, the better off he or she will be. The victim might be able to walk; carrying him or her also might be an option. Before setting out, do the following:

  1. Encourage a frightened victim to remain calm, and give reassurance that he or she is being cared for.
  2. Remove rings and other jewelry that might cause problems if the area around a bite swells.
  3. If available within three minutes of the bite, apply a Sawyer Extractor® directly over the fang marks and leave in place for no more than 10 minutes. Properly used, the extractor can remove up to 30 percent of the venom. Do not make any cuts on the bite— that's an old-fashioned remedy that can cause the victim much more harm than help.
  4. Immobilize a bitten arm with a splint and a sling, keeping the wound lower than the level of the victim's heart.
  5. Do not apply ice to a snakebite. Ice will not help the injury, but could cause damage to skin and tissue.

If the victim must wait for medical attention to arrive, add these treatment steps:

  1. Have the victim lie down and remain still. Position the bitten part lower than the rest of the body. If you have not done so already, immobilize the bitten limb with a splint.
  2. Put a broad constricting band (a bandanna or a strip of cloth at least 1 inch wide) around the bitten limb 2 to 4 inches above the bite (between the heart and the bite) to slow the spread of venom. This is not a tourniquet; it is intended to impede the lymphatic system but not the circulation of blood. The band should be snug, but loose enough to slip a finger under easily. Periodically check for a pulse on both sides of the band. You must not cut off blood circulation entirely. Do not use a constriction band around a finger, a toe, the head, or the trunk.
  3. Treat for shock, but keep a bitten extremity lower than the heart.

When helping victims of bites or stings, do whatever you must to avoid being bitten or stung yourself. A rescuer who becomes injured could greatly complicate any emergency situation.

Shark Attacks

Though rare, shark attacks on humans create dramatic headlines in the media. Many more people die each year from the effects of bee stings than from shark bites. Reduce even that remote likelihood of a shark attack by avoiding areas where sharks are known to congregate. Don't enter the water alone. Blood, fish bait, and human waste in the water might attract sharks, as can bright objects such as jewelry. If sharks are sighted, return to shore quickly but with a minimum of splashing.

Jellyfish Stings

Your trips along shorelines and on the open sea can bring you within proximity of a variety of animals you will enjoy observing from a distance. The Portuguese man-of-war and jellyfish have stinging cells on their tentacles. When touched, the toxins in those cells may attach to the skin and cause a sharp, burning pain.

Do not wash affected skin with fresh water, as that can cause the release of more toxin. Instead, soak the injury for 30 minutes in alcohol or vinegar, then use tweezers to remove the remaining tentacles. Quickly get the victim under medical care. People who are allergic to jellyfish stings might go into deep shock.

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