Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are in the Order Diptera which stand for two-wings. Diptera is the order of flies it contains over 90,000 species,which includes mosquitoes,gnats, and midges. As you can imagine we run into these insects daily and now that summer has finally began, its time to learn how you can prevent putting yourself into danger.

Generally most people are disgusted by flies and its no wonder considering how much bacteria every fly carries. However flies are the least of our concerns. Mosquitoes are the culprits in this Order.

Mosquitoes are possibly one of the most harmful insects to the human population. The main reason for this is the diseases they transmit to humans. Malaria and Yellow Fever.

Malaria is caused by a parasite mosquitoes transmit to humans after they are  bitten. It kills around 1 million people a year( mostly in Africa). It has been shown most places of poverty tend to have the highest death rates. This could be because they don’t have proper resources to treat patients nor do they have to equipment and supplies to protect them from such dangers. With low immune systems, the malaria virus can be deadly. However, not all species can transmit malaria. Only the female Anopheles mosquito carries the malaria parasite and transmits it to humans. This adds up to around 40 species actually being harmful. When a person becomes sick with malaria they often experience chills, fever, vomiting, and headaches. Body pains have been a common symptom as well. If an infected person seeks immediate medical attention then they should be fine within a couple of weeks. Although this sounds bad, malaria does not even compare the next disease.

Yellow Fever is a horrid disease also caused from mosquitoes. Yellow Fever is found in Africa and South America. Yellow fever often is carried  by a mosquito from one to person to the next.  With no medical attention it can lead to internal bleeding as well as liver and kidney failure. Luckily, if caught early the symptoms will be practically the same as malaria.  Yellow Fever becomes evident in a person in less than a week of being infected. However with malaria the person may carry the virus for years before ever experiencing symptoms.

Although there are medicines and vaccinations to prevent these two diseases, it is never guaranteed to work, and there are no specific medications to be used in either case for treatment. You simply have to wait it out in a hospital. In the states  malaria is always a present danger, as Yellow Fever is a disease you are only at risk to contract if you travel  to other countries.

Only female mosquitoes will bite. They use the blood to feed their offspring. A female can lay up to 200 eggs, which have the ability to grow as quickly as 3 days. They lay their eggs in non-moving water, such as a bird bath.  Larvae will feed on algae and other organic materials within the water. Both males and females feed on nectar and sugar to gain energy, Males live up to a week and females live up to a month after full development. They are found in most water environments, including marshes with a higher salinity. The warmer and more humid the temperature is, the better chance survival of all mosquitoes. Although mosquitoes pass malaria and yellow fever to any person they bite, they DO NOT pass any other bacteria or viruses such as AIDS. See..the parasite from malaria is in the mosquitoes system. When it bites a person, the parasite travels through the saliva of the insect and enters the humans blood stream. However, other remnants such as AIDS aren’t passed back through the mouth in saliva. It doesn’t even have a chance to leave the mosquito due to a very complex anatomy. At any rate, the good news is there are many preventative measures you can take to ensure your safety.

  • When traveling to other countries, do your research!! Getting the proper vaccinations can help you immensely. Although they are never a 100% guarantee, they do give you an extremely better chance of not contracting an insect-borne disease or parasite.
  • Wear the proper repellents. Any repellent is better than none.
  • If you have any pots, bowls ,or anything else collecting standing water, it’s a magnet to mosquitoes. Go around your yard and dump these all out.
  • Invest in bat houses. Bats are the main predator of mosquitoes, if you provide housing for them, they will more likely stick around and feed on the insects.
  • Lastly use the repellent candles.

 

With knowledge we can take any danger and lessen it. If you educate yourself, then you can enjoy the outdoors where ever you go.  Although these insects are a pest to us, they do feed our natural wildlife such as bats and small frogs among other animals. We must learn to coexist and simply be aware of the dangers as well as benefits.

 

Ciara Utech

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Venomous Snakes: How Do You Really Know?

        It’s that time of the year! All of the wildlife is coming out from winter welcoming us into spring. As it progressively gets warmer, the reptiles are coming out of their hibernation.  People like me, a naturalist and reptile lover, embrace this time. However for the average person, this time of the year is a bit unnerving because they know the venomous snakes are about to cross their paths. While most people think they know the signs of a venomous snake, they are often wrong. This can quickly turn dangerous, if they come across a venomous species.

        First of all, let’s be sure we all know what venom actually is. Venom is not poison. Poison is not venom. Repeat after me please: Venom is injected, poison is ingested. I won’t go into the extreme biochemical compounds of poison and venom but please realize, snakes do not  have poison. They are venomous. The treatment for venoms and poisons are completely different and so are their side effects.

        Now you know snakes can only be venomous. So how do you know if its venomous or not? Well I wish I could give you simple black and white answers but unfortunately I can not. I can,  however give you some signs that typically point toward venomous.

  • Venomous snakes are often nocturnal. The best food comes out at night. Most nocturnal animals have vertical eyes, like a cat.  Almost all venomous snakes have these “slit” eyes. However, be aware venomous snakes will come out during the day to sun.
  • It has a triangle shaped head. Many venomous snakes have large venom sacs which sit behind their jaw bones right before the neck area. Vipers, like rattlesnakes, have large venom sacs. However others like cobras and coral snakes lack this large sac area, yet carry extremely toxic venom.
  • Rattles. If if has a rattle at the end of the tail, then it is without a doubt a venomous rattlesnake. I elaborate on this because people mistake snakes for rattlesnakes all the time. Many snakes shake their tail against an object or grass and it makes a rattle type noise. A rattlesnake actually has visible rattles on the end of its tail.
  • If it strikes at you and you see fangs, this means its venomous.

        Even with these simple signs, unless you are an expert in snakes, it can be very hard to correctly identify a venomous snake. There is an exception to every one of those rules. So remember, even if a snake looks fun to hold, its best to leave it alone, just in case. If you run across a troublesome situation with a snake, call for help. Better to be safe, then chance it and get hurt.

 

See tail: No Rattle

 

Rattle at the end of tail. Only Rattlesnakes have this.

Spiders Around Your Home II Black Widow

In my previous article Spiders Around Your Home: Brown Recluse, I mentioned there are 30 species of spiders are considered harmful to humans. But the Black Widow is the  

  

     The Black Widow, Lactrodectus mactans is the species found al over the United States and perhaps the most easily recognized of the Lactrodectus spiders.

     The Black Widow’s venom is a neurotoxin. Meaning it effects your nervous system.  Common symptoms are headaches, seizures, vomiting, muscle cramps and at its worse, paralysis. Being a powerful venom it’s also 15 times more toxic than a rattlesnake. However, bites from the Widow are not common. As with many venoms, children and elderly are more prone to side effects than anyone. When bitten, it can take more than an hour to notice pain from a bite. Often the signs are little and seem insignificant, as headaches are usually one of the first signs. A stabbing pain in the bite location  may also occur within hours. You may be thinking, “How do I know I was bitten, if I never saw the spider?”. In my last article, talking about the Brown Recluse, I mentioned it was a very hard bite to identify. However the Widow’s bite mark is quite easily identifiable once swelling sets in. It almost always has two little fang marks or “dot marks”, where the bite occurred. No, this does not mean they have huge fangs. In fact, majority of people who have been bitten by the Widow reported not ever feeling the bite at all. It simply is just the swelling of the tissue expanding the bite area, making the bite more visible.

Habitat

     The good news is these spiders are very easy to avoid, if you are being aware of your surroundings. They love dark moist environments. This is why many basements will be crawling with Black Widow’s. They also love wood piles, but not like the recluse. Brown Recluses like dry habitats. So while you may find a recluse is a pile of wood for your fireplace, you are more likely to find a Widow in fallen branches and wood piles out in the yard. These carry a lot of moisture and provide a dark comfortable living space for these little creatures. So always wear gloves when working in your yard. They build webs off the ground, and prefer to be in a corners. These spiders are known for their cobweb like webs. When you first glance at a Widow’s web, you may wonder how in the world if stays in tact, and you may also wonder how she makes her way through the web without getting entangled.

Powerful Webbing

     First of all, the web is said to be stronger than the strongest steel, from a size to strength ratio. So while it may look like a jumbled mess, it actually serves a purpose. When an animal or large insect comes into contact with the web, it doesn’t budge. Everything stays in place. It’s an amazing design the Widow family has developed. The silk they produce is very strong and many scientists are researching it to see what resources we could gain from it. When looking closely into a Widow’s web, you will also see hundreds of silky lines going in and out in every single direction. This gives her and her eggs the ultimate protection against predators and other hazards.

Identification

      The B.W spider is black and shiny. Her legs are pointed at the ends supported by microscopic hairs that help her sense prey and aid her when weaving through her web. She is graceful and truly fast. Don’t let her reclusiveness and jumbled web fool you. She can be at one end of her web and in a split second especially to defend her home and her eggs. The females reach up to 9 mm, with the underside of their abdomen (second  section of their body) showcasing a large red hour-glass shape as seen in the picture. In the animal world bright colors such as reds and yellows spell out danger and toxin. As you can imagine, they have few predators. So while she lays in her web, she hangs right side up, presenting the hourglass for everyone to see. Interestingly the male widow looks nothing like the female. He is typically brown in coloration and very tiny. About 1 mm. He is completely harmless so no need to be frightened, his sole purpose is to mate.

Mating

     The Black Widow is known as the widow because she eats her male “companion”. In order to produce offspring she needs to mate with a male. Watching widows mate is an interesting site. The male usually seeks the female. His only purpose in life is to mate and create offspring, hopefully living afterwards. He must be smart and sneaky to stay safe. When entering the web, he must make it clear he is not prey. In other words, let her know he wants to mate. He will showcase this in the way he climbs in her web and approaches her. He soon reaches her and must position himself to to mate. Sadly for him, this means putting his abdomen (extremely vulnerable area holding all the vital organs), directly under her fangs. At any moment she can bite down on him, so he must be quick and efficient. Once he has mated he may leave, however the female usually makes the decision to eat him before he can escape.

She will lay around 10 egg sacs in one season, carrying hundreds of babies in each. After about 25-30 days they will hatch out. Until the baby has become a mature female, they do not have any potent venom.

If bitten:

  • If you know you were bitten, then put a hot pack or hot water on the bite, this will slow and break down the venom
  • You can seek medical attention but anti-venom will rarely be given, as it is more dangerous than the actual widow bite. They usually will help you with the pain and symptoms.
  • Do not kill spider, if you know it bit you. Rather safely catch and it take it with you to the doctor so you can identify it correctly.

This is a beautiful species. There are a few other species of Widow spiders throughout the world. Most of which are in the United States. Remember, although highly toxic, these spiders will leave you completely alone unless you come into contact with their web. They are quite gentle spider if not threatened.  So feel free to sit next to their web and observe them. You may walk away with a completely different view of this graceful species.

Ciara

Wildlife-N-Critters

“Teaching conservation of our wildlife and all its wonderful critters.”

Spiders Around Your Home-Brown Recluse

Arachnophobia. It is argued to be the highest ranking phobia in the world. This is the fear of spiders. For many people talking about spiders, or even seeing a picture of a spider can be enough to send them into a panic attack, let alone discomfort.

It isn’t any wonder why, as there are 35,000 known species of spiders and many left to be discovered. For many people this is a frightening thought. However, around only 30 of those species carry a venom truly harmful to humans. And luckily for you, most of them are in other countries. So first of all what is a Spider?

Spiders are part of the class Arachnida. This means they have 2 body segments, 4 pairs of legs( 8 legs), and no antennae. Spiders lay egg sacs, which carry millions of tiny baby spiders, also called spiderlings.  They come in all sizes. From a tiny dot to the diameter of a dinner plate. While they seem scary, they are extremely diverse, intelligent, and graceful. One could only be so lucky to observe a spider in the wild.

Here in Oklahoma, there are only two species of spider that are medically important, which is true for most of the United States as well. The one that is most spoken about and possibly the most misidentified is the Brown Recluse ( Loxosceles reclusa) also called fiddleback or violin spider. This spider carries a venom that is typically only potent to people with weak immune systems. It is a necrotic venom effecting the tissues. Areas with more tissue are more prone to necrosis than other areas. Just like its name suggests, it is very reclusive. Often  found roaming along a wall, or in clothes that have been left on the floor.

A bite from a recluse is  thought to be uncommon. Its venom has the ability to eat away tissue and if left untreated, cause internal complications. Children and the elderly are more sensitive to the venom. However more often than not, a “bite” is actually a sore or  insect bite, that has become infected, which can quickly turn into staph infection. Staph is very common, easy to contract , and has similar effects of necrosis. A  mild recluse bite can be treated with an antihistamine. Just like staph the recluse bite wound will fester.  This makes for a confusing diagnosis. Observance of suspected bite area is important in case you need medical attention. Since these spiders are so reclusive, they will do their best to stay out of your sight. Therefore, your chances of getting bitten, like I said, uncommon.

What to do if bitten by a recluse:

  • Identify the spider! If you can, take a picture or CAREFULLY catch it in a cup. And no, a smashed spider does not make for an easy identification.
  • Do NOT wash wound with hot water. Usually hot water will break down the venom in your system. However, in the recluse this only seems to speed the venom to a rapid rate. Use cold water or better yet, don’t touch the bite at all. See a medical professional soon.
  • Just because you are bitten does not mean you need any medical attention. The best patient is one who knows their body. Watch your bite. If you see in color changes( turning to purple or black), then see a medical professional. If you are for certain you were bitten by a spider, try to put an antihistamine lotion on your bite or take Benadryl.
  • And most of all, remember if you did not see the spider bite you or feel it when it happened, then do not assume it was a bite at all.

 

Identification of the spider can also be confusing.The recluse spider comes in many colorations from light tan to dark brown. They can be one or two toned. They also have a violin shape on the first section of their body(Cephlathorax). However, this shape is often lacking in various species/colorations so it is best not to rely on the violin symbol for a secure identification tool. They can reach the diameter of a half-dollar, but can also be very small. They prefer to be in dark areas. Their favorite habitat would be leaf litter in a yard ,in a slightly damp wooded area. During breeding time, males will often be found roaming around in search of females and food. Typically if you find a recluse spider, you can leave it alone and it will go on its way. If possible try to find a container that keeps your hand out of the reach of the spider, and try to take it outside in a tree. Contrary to belief, spiders are actually great for our ecosystem, so always try to save them if you are able to.

The recluse is an interesting species because it exhibits a bit of the “opossum attitude”. That’s right, these little creatures have mastered the art of playing dead. You can poke and prod at them, as long as you are in their sight, they won’t budge. Their eyes are on the top of their heads(cephlathorax) so they can only see what is above them. It’s when you sit at their level that they suddenly “come to life” again. Another reason as why you should never pick up a spider if you do not know what it is.

Recluses have been documented on many occasions to living over 5 years and going without food for many months up to a year at some points. They have egg sacs which are white in coloration. Soft and hold an estimated 40 eggs each.  Like all other spiders they mature gradually molting( shedding skin) numerous times.

Check out this website with great information on Brown Recluses:

http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7468.html

See further articles about other species of spiders commonly found around your home. Any questions of suggestions? Leave me a comment or email me and I’ll be happy to answer all your spider questions.

-Ciara

*In Native American teachings the spider is the weaver of the secret language. She weaves her web constantly to conserve and pass on the language to each generation so they never forget their true teachings.

Welcome to my site!

Hey everyone!!

 My name is Ciara Utech. My business is Wildlife-N-Critters.  My goal? To educate about conservation of animals. I’ve worked with everything from elephants to sea cucumbers. While I love all animals, my focus has always been reptiles, insects, and arachnids. So most of the time you will see something I have written than fits in one of those three categories. However I will try to cover a wide range of animals. I will try to keep this up with  a lot of variety as far as my content. Such as maybe what its like working with a specific animal or just general information on another. I love answering questions and always will take suggestions on what you, the reader, wants to know. This is in the beginning stages (this is my first site) so please give me your patience. Hope you enjoy!!

Ciara