Chiggers, ticks, spiders and snakes (Oh, my!)

The underside of a black widow spider is distinguished from brown widow in that body color is darker, blacker and more shiny, hourglass marking on abdomen is more red than orange.

Mother Nature is beautiful. She's also hungry.

An unprepared hike through the woods or a day in the garden can be just what the doctor ordered. But our day of peace can end with itching, swelling and rashes. Or worse. Hidden in fallen leaves and lurking on branches are a multitude of hungry parasites and defensive organisms.

We may bask in Mother Nature's beauty, but we are not immune to her dangers.

Chiggers, or red bugs, are tiny. If you put one on a dime, it would fit on Franklin Roosevelt's eye. They hide in fallen leaves and grass. Once on you, they feed in snug areas like socks and waistbands.

Contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow into your skin. They pierce your skin and dissolve the cells with saliva. Isn't that better?

Chiggers typically fall off and leave itchy welts. Prevention is the best approach. Use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Tucking pants into boots and wearing long-sleeved shirts can help. Chiggers can linger on blankets and clothing and ruin romantic picnics.

Fingernail polish might reduce the itching, but it's not smothering a buried chigger. It's better to use hydrocortisone to relieve the itch.

Ticks will suck your blood. Many feed on animals, but some end up on us.

Do not pull a tick off with your fingers. This might leave the head buried in your skin. Neither should you try the match trick. Any of these methods could cause the tick to regurgitate saliva into you, resulting in more severe reaction or infection.

Tweezing is the proper way to remove a tick. Get tweezers as close to the head as possible and pull straight out. Many sources recommend keeping the tick to identify later problems. Disinfect the bite with soap and water.

High boots are preferable to reduce tick invasions. Tuck pants into socks to prevent them from crawling up your leg. Spray ankles and shoes with insect repellent. Shower and do a thorough check of your scalp and every crack and crevice on your body.

The deer tick is small, and while 20 percent to 40 percent of them are capable of transmitting Lyme disease, less than 5 percent of bites in high-contact areas result in the disease. A deer tick must feed on you for 36 to 48 hours to transmit the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease.

If flu-like symptoms develop and a distinct bulls-eye swelling appears around the bite, seek medical attention.

Spiders are generally more hated than chiggers and ticks, probably because we see them so often.

Banana spiders are everywhere this time of year. These giant orb-spinners can be seen rebuilding their webs every morning. As big and menacing as they look, their bite is no worse than a bee sting.

Widow spiders are a different story. They can hide in tool sheds, inside irrigation valve boxes or underneath pots. Black widows have the classic blood-red hourglass marking.

Brown widows are becoming common around the house with the same marking on the abdomen. Their bites are rarely life-threatening, but the discomfort can be significant. Cramping, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing can develop within hours and go on for days.

If bitten, clean the area with soap and water. Keep a cool, wet rag or ice on the bite. If possible, collect the spider or its remains for identification and seek medical attention.

The only thing less popular than spiders is snakes. Our legless friends are happy to leave us alone, but they sometimes hang out in groundcover or tall grass and untimely meetings occur.

If you're bitten by a venomous snake, such as a copperhead, cottonmouth or rattlesnake, the first thing to do is remain calm. That sounds impossible, but it will keep your heart rate down and slow the venom.

Next, get medical attention. Do not use a tourniquet, cut Xs over the bite or try to suck out the poison. Do not ice the bite, either. None of these methods are effective and could result in further damage.

Call Carolinas Poison Center for more assistance at 800-222-1222.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at