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How to identify poisonous snakes and spiders

by Staff Writer
08 Jun 2020 at 20:48hrs | Views
Humans aren't the only animals to have some nasty tricks up their sleeves. Both spiders and snakes have a reputation for striking fear into even the most iron-willed of us (one particular whip-wielding professor of archaeology comes to mind for the latter).

But not all of our web-laying or slithering neighbors have bad intentions. Incidentally, none of them do - not until something forces their hand. Luckily, evolution provides us with a few clues for telling the friendlies from the ones you want to look out for.

Spiders
The vast majority of spiders are not dangerous to humans. Even if you get bitten by one, the chances of it doing any major harm are very small. However, there are some that pack enough of a punch to do some damage.

 - The Brown Recluse
The most dangerous spider in America. A bite from one of these can cause major swelling of the area, ulceration, and infections that require urgent medical attention. To identify whether or not you're dealing with a Brown Recluse, look for the tell-tale “violin shape” on its head.

 - The Black Widow
The bite of a poisonous spider like the Black Widow releases a powerful neurotoxin that causes severe pain, muscle stiffness, and nausea. The distinctive red hourglass marking can vary in color from a yellow-orange to red and can vary in shape from an hourglass to a small dot.

 - The Hobo Spider
The Hobo Spider makes its web in cracks, crevices, and other sheltered places, and its bite is still very much worthy of medical attention, often causing blisters that can burst and lead to open ulcerations. The appearance of a Hobo Spider is also fairly distinctive: brown with a yellow chevron pattern on its abdomen.

If it isn't one of these three, it's unlikely to do you much harm. If you're still unsure what spider you're dealing with, take note of its appearance and make use of the wealth of online resources, such as the World Spider Catalog at https://wsc.nmbe.ch/

Snakes
There are more types of venomous snakes in the US than spiders, and it's a little harder to do venomous vs non-venomous snake identification.

This section begins with an important disclaimer:
While the two rules below are a good starting point for identifying a snake, there are many exceptions to both. Never apply these rules as a catch-all. In the end, there is no shortcut for learning the native snakes of your area and being prepared.

There is only one rule that works 100% of the time: If you are unsure whether or not a snake is dangerous, leave it alone.


Firstly, the shape of the head is a fairly good rule of thumb. A venomous snake will often have a triangular-shaped head, due to the presence of venom sacs in its jaw. Conversely, a non-venomous snake will have often have a more rounded head.

The pointy-vs-round rule also extends to the eyes: The pupils of venomous snakes such as pit vipers are vertical slits, much like cats. A non-venomous snake such as a milk snake will have round pupils. So, the good news is that if it looks a little scary, it might well be! The bad news is that while in good light conditions the pupils are a slit, in low light the pupils will dilate and become round.

So as if to prove the previous point, these rules are constantly misapplied. It's a good start to know what's more likely, but if you want to prepare properly, here are the 4 main venomous snakes that you need to look out for in the United States.

 - Rattlesnake
 - Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin
 - Coral Snake
 - Copperhead

Placing your faith in broad rules puts both you and the snake in danger. It is far better and safer to become acquainted with each individual snake and treat every snake you meet with the respect it deserves.

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