Watch your step when you walk in the woods

It’s always a good idea to watch where you place your hands and feet during this time of year if you venture outside. The biting insects and slithering snakes are out and the poison ivy is lush and green. I try to stay observant and alert in the outdoors, as you never know what you’re going to see or what may happen.

The bite of the Black Widow spider can produce muscle aches, nausea and make breathing difficult.

The bite of the Black Widow spider can produce muscle aches, nausea
and make breathing difficult.

Case in point, last week I went to the farm to brush hog but decided to take a quick 4-wheeler ride first. I pulled the ATV out of the building and strapped some stuff to the front rack. When I got ready to hop back on I noticed something on the seat.

That something turned out to be a dead black spider with a red hourglass shape on its abdomen. Yep, it was a black widow, just lying there dead right where I had just sat. I froze as chill bumps went up my arms. I usually don’t let spiders and snakes bother me too bad and scream like a little girl like some of my buddies do when they see one, but this black widow gave me the he-bee gee-bees.

I’m assuming I killed the thing when I jumped on the 4-wheeler to pull it out of the building. I couldn’t even imagine the shape I’d be in now if that thing would have crawled up the back of my shirt, or worse down the crack of my pants. Boy oh boy, I was lucky that day. I learned a lesson to not only watch where you place your hands and feet but watch where you sit down as well.

According to a National Geographic webpage, I was very lucky after I read this: “This spider’s bite is much feared because its venom is reported to be 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake’s. In humans, bites produce muscle aches, nausea and a paralysis of the diaphragm that can make breathing difficult; however, contrary to popular belief, most people who are bitten suffer no serious damage — let alone death. But bites can be fatal — usually to small children, the elderly or the infirm. Fortunately, fatalities are fairly rare; the spiders are not aggressive and bite only in self-defense, such as when someone accidentally sits on them.”

That last statement confirms that someone was looking out for me. Black widows get their name from the female’s deadly ways. After mating, the females will sometimes kill and eat the males. It’s amazing how the little things in nature can be so dangerous and deadly.

The snakes are out as well but here in West Virginia we only have to worry about the copperheads and rattlesnakes, as they are the only venomous reptiles found here. Rattlesnakes are easy to distinguish as they have their signature rattle at the end of their tail. Copperheads have hourglass shaped patterns down their backs and can have a copper hue to them.

Both species have slit eyes like a cat and a telltale sign of a venomous snake. Nonpoisonous snakes have round pupils like ours. Garter snakes and water snakes often get mistaken for copperheads, especially by my one buddy who thinks every snake is a copperhead.

Copperheads can often get mistaken for garter snakes and water snakes.

Copperheads can often get mistaken for garter snakes and water snakes.

A couple of weeks ago my dad and I were clearing trails from last year’s storm. It left a mess and took several days of hard work to get them cleared. Dad was running the tractor and tried to push a log out of the road. When he did it got hung on an old stump at the road edge. He pointed and said “I think you need to cut this log right here so I can push it out of the way.”

When I looked at the log where he pointed I saw a copperhead crawling under it. I said, “You might cut that log there, but I’m not.” Needless to say, after I told him what I saw he gave the tractor a little more throttle and was able to pop the old stump out as he pushed the log again. I’m not sure what happened to the copperhead but we moved on. Of course, I watched every step then.

Keep your eyes open and watch your step out there. It’s best to leave the snakes alone and walk a wide circle around them if possible when you see one in the woods. They, along with the black widows, unfortunately call this place home as well. Be careful and stay safe until next time.

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