For most residents, the risks of living in Arizona don’t nearly outweigh the benefits. Our state’s beautiful natural landscapes, warm winter weather and thriving economy are simply too good to pass up! However, it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself against the dangerous wildlife found throughout the Southwest.
Let’s explore which animals to watch for and what you should do if you encounter them.
The Arizona bark scorpion is not only the most common scorpion of the more than 60 species native to our state, but it’s also the most venomous.
When stung, most healthy adults will experience localized pain, numbness and tingling. But for the elderly, children under age six and those with weakened immune systems, bark scorpion stings can lead to severe or potentially fatal reactions.
These symptoms are the most common among those who are most at risk:
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble swallowing
- Twitching of the limbs
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of vision
- Excess saliva and choking
How you treat a scorpion sting depends on whether you experience a severe reaction. If the pain is mostly local, closely monitor your symptoms to make sure they don’t worsen. Make sure to drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol, aspirin, wash the skin and take ibuprofen rather than antihistamines like diphenhydramine. In cases like these, you won’t require medical attention.
If you experience a serious reaction that causes vision changes or changes in breathing, call poison control or visit the emergency department immediately. Stings are graded on a scale from zero to four.
- Grade 1 involves local pain, tingling or numbness at the site of the sting.
- Grade 2 involves pain, tingling or numbness that extends beyond the site of the sting.
- Grade 3 includes cranial OR muscular nerve issues:
- Cranial nerve issues include blurred vision, rapid eye movement, increased salivation or difficulty swallowing, talking or breathing.
- Muscular nerve issues include restlessness, involuntary shaking or twitching of the arms, legs, hands or feet.
- Grade 4 is the most severe and involves both cranial and muscular nerve symptoms listed above.
If you fall at a three or above, you may need antivenom treatment.
Even if your reaction is severe, the good news is that scorpion stings rarely cause long-term effects. You may experience numbness and tingling for up to a month after your bite, but the initial pain will disappear within 24 to 36 hours.
Black widows are the most dangerous spider in Arizona. Their bites can be very painful and severe depending on the amount of venom they inject but usually are not fatal.
Another common spider species is the brown spider — a less dangerous cousin of the brown recluse. These spiders can also cause serious pain and sometimes necrotic wounds, but not to the extent of the brown recluse.
If you come across either of these species, make sure to avoid them. Both species only bite when aggravated — but accidents can happen. Healthy adults can cleanse the wound with soap and water, applying ice, elevating the area and taking over-the-counter medication to ease the pain. If symptoms worsen, visit the emergency room.
Elderly people, children and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to severe symptoms like nausea, weakness, fevers, difficulty breathing and elevated blood pressure. In these cases, the patient should seek medical attention immediately.
Of the 36 rattlesnake species found throughout the United States, 13 of them live in Arizona. They are often spotted around Camelback Mountain, South Mountain, desert areas and other similar regions in the Valley.
Physical symptoms of a rattlesnake bite can include pain, swelling, bruising, and bleeding. Their venom can Interfere with the blood system, making it harder for it to clot.
If you are bitten, do not tie a tourniquet, apply ice or attempt to suck out the venom. Go to the emergency room immediately regardless of your age, gender and level of health. Here, doctors will perform bloodwork and monitor your symptoms closely to determine whether you need antivenom treatment.
Although the antivenom is highly effective, you will likely need to stay a night or two in the hospital. Because the venom can damage the tissue in the area of the bite, snake bite recovery can take anywhere from a week to a few months, depending on the amount of venom injected. Snake bites can also lead to long-term consequences like tissue loss, nerve damage and, in rare cases, amputation.
How can you distinguish a rattlesnake from a less dangerous species from afar?
Look for these telltale signs:
- Triangular heads
- Rings around the tail
- Thin, vertical pupils
- A rattle
However, if you see any type of snake out in the wild, it’s best to keep your distance and leave it alone.
Bees are yet another potentially dangerous creature found in Arizona. If you accidentally disturb a hive, seek shelter from the swarm. If you are stung and experience an allergic reaction or hypersensitivity to the sting, go to the hospital immediately. Otherwise, you can alleviate the pain with acetaminophen, ibuprofen and hydrocortisone cream.
Mammals like mountain lions, bobcats and javelinas are also common desert encounters. Always seek treatment for these types of animal bites, as the geographical location in which you were bitten will determine whether you need a rabies shot.
About half of bite and sting patients try to physically handle the animals, while the rest are accidents. As long as you keep your distance, pay attention to your surroundings and educate yourself about the risks of living in Arizona, you can safely enjoy all the natural desert beauty our state has to offer.