Bertauski

Spiders do tremendous work to eat things we call pests.

The Edisto is one of the longest free-flowing, blackwater rivers in North America, journeying from the mid-state of South Carolina to the coast.

We spent a quiet Labor Day weekend with a panoramic view of the slow-moving blackwater, listening to cicada-song move through the trees and birds circle overhead. As serene as that was, we also were reminded that nature can be cruel.

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Bird of prey spots a squirrel on the ground.

Birds of prey were searching for food. Somewhere below the peaceful water, bigger fish were swallowing littler ones. On a micro-level, assassin bugs stroll through a colony of aphids and eat them like cows grazing in a pasture. Parasitic wasps lay eggs in hornworm caterpillars that will eat their host alive.

Sometimes nature is best viewed through a screen porch.

A leisurely stroll through the woods was invigorating. Reconnecting with nature can cleanse worries and settle your thoughts. It might not come without consequences. Nature is hungry. In some cases, we’re a threat just walking down a path. Sometimes, we’re food.

Chiggers, or red bugs, hide in fallen leaves and grass. They may lurk on shrubs in wait of a passing meal. Spanish moss, once lying on the ground, is a well-known hiding place. They’re too small to notice easily. Once on you, they feed in snug areas like socks and waistbands. I have proof on my hip. Contrary to what most of us heard growing up, they do not burrow into you. They pierce your skin to feed but are brushed off and leave behind a welt. Isn’t that better than burrowing?

Prevention is the best approach. Use insect repellent on exposed skin and clothing. Tucking pants into boots and wearing long-sleeved shirts can help. Flip-flops are vacancy signs around your feet and your legs highways that lead into warmer, snugger areas. Chiggers can linger on blankets and clothing, too. Fingernail polish might reduce the itching, but it’s not smothering a buried chigger. Whatever relieves the itch, the welts will disappear in about a week.

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Ticks are just one of many types of wildlife that can cause problems.

Ticks, however, will suck your blood.

They will latch on wherever they decide to call a patch of skin home. This might be your leg or scalp. Don’t panic when you find one. Do not pull it off with your fingers. This might leave the head buried in your skin and could cause a more severe reaction or infection. Tweezing is the best way to remove a tick. Get them 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 through your scalp and over your body.

The deer tick, dog tick and lone star tick are the most prevalent in South Carolina. While there are diseases associated with each one, the deer tick is capable of transmitting Lyme disease, but less than 5 percent of bites in high-contact areas result in the disease. It is unlikely to occur in South Carolina but not impossible. If flu-like symptoms develop and a distinct bulls-eye swelling appears around the bite, seek medical attention.

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Bertauski

Banana spiders are nonvenomous and commonly seen around the yard.

Spiders are generally more despised than chiggers and ticks, probably because we see them more often. Banana spiders are more obvious 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.

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Egg sacs of the brown widow spider, which have distinct spiky orbs, wait to hatch.

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.

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 the remains for identification and seek medical attention.

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A close call with a rattlesnake hiding near a hay bale at Chainey Briar Stables in Ridgeville. 

The only thing less popular than spiders is snakes. They sometimes hang out in groundcover or tall grass. If you’re bitten by a venomous snake, 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 reference old Western movies for treatment.

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. Your best approach is to remain calm and get medical attention.

And remember, Nature isn’t mad at you. It’s hungry or scared.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony.bertauski@tridenttech.edu.