Dangers lurk in nature's beauty

The Bolsa Chica wetlands is a haven for runners, hikers and nature lovers.

It's also home to some of North America's most dangerous snakes, spiders and scorpions.

About 25 people recently gathered at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy's interpretive center to hear Carol Taylor, a Cal State Long Beach zoology and herpetology student, talk about the dangerous creatures hikers could encounter in the wetlands.

Helen Clark, 60, of Westminster is a frequent birder at Bolsa Chica. She was surprised to learn of the creepy-crawlies she could run into along the trails. Last year, in fact, she was caught off-guard by a Southern Pacific rattlesnake.

"I forget that rattlesnakes are there, so I didn't expect to see it," Clark said. "Then all of a sudden, there it is."

Taylor identified four snakes and various spiders and scorpions common to, or seen in, the area.

The most dangerous serpent found in Bolsa Chica is the Western diamondback rattlesnake, which sports fangs around 2.5 inches long. Its venom, Taylor explained, can cause cell damage and hemorrhaging.

"If it's untreated for a long amount of time, roughly three to four days, you can actually suffer from your heart beginning to explode," she said. "It's considered one of the most painful venoms to experience, and I don't recommend it."

Taylor advised hikers to look out for the red diamondback rattlesnake. Though its venom is not as potent, it can cause plenty of harm.

Instead of targeting the circulatory or nervous systems, the poison attacks muscle tissue; untreated bites can lead to gangrene.

"If you had to get bit, this is the one I would recommend," she quipped.

Though rattlesnakes are the most common venomous creatures at Bolsa Chica, venomous spiders and scorpions are also crawling around.

Black widows are common. Though the spiders can produce strong venom that can remain in the human body for 24 hours, Taylor said bites usually don't require antivenin since a rash and nausea are the common symptoms.

Those who are allergic to venom, however, are susceptible to more serious illness and death.

"The rule of thumb is that if you're allergic to bees, you're going to be allergic to anything that we've talked about today," she said.

Desert hairy scorpions have been found around Southern California, but their venom, Taylor said, is not lethal to humans.

"Most people, when they're stung, don't even realize they have been," she said. "They're a very docile species of scorpion, and you normally can actually pick them up."

While snakes' venom can disable or kill an animal larger than the snake, spider and scorpion venom is more effective on prey closer to the arachnids in size.

Barring those who are allergic to venom, most people have about three to four days to get treatment, Taylor said, adding that most major Southern California hospitals offer antivenin for nearly every possible bite.

"If you lived anywhere else in the United States, or any other country for that matter, you're actually in big trouble," she said. "They'd have to fly you to another location or fly in a herpetologist to you with the antivenin they have to make up then and there at the spot. So we're lucky to live where we live."

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