May 23, 2012
Creepy crawlies are all those stinging and biting creatures that give most of us the shivers. This group includes snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, ants, bees, ticks and leeches. It is important to know something about these creatures and how to travel safely through their world.
As nasty as creatures like the tarantula may seem, creepy crawlies abide by the same guidelines as their kin in the animal world: Except in the case of rare exceptions like leeches and ticks, they want nothing to do with you and are not on the lookout for you. Solid pre-trip research will tell you what you need to watch out for.
A man in Africa once had a black mamba, arguably the most aggressive and dangerous snake in the world, slither down into his sleeping bag to get warm for the night. The man was nearly hysterical when he realized this and was convinced the snake would bite him. His camping mates decided that in one swift motion, two of them would yank him out by his shoulders while two others whipped the sleeping bag off his feet. They did just that, and in the few seconds it took to complete the task, the snake bit the man 13 times, killing him. Chances are the snake eventually would have left if the man had lain still and waited it out.
When it comes to avoiding creepy crawlies, a little local knowledge goes a long way. Learn before you head out what you need to watch for and where it lives. Generally, you should follow these rules to minimize contact with creepy crawlies:
Avoid Dark Places
Keep your hands and feet out of dark places such as rock crevices, heavy brush or hollow logs. If you need to get into such places for supplies or shelter, first use a long stick to probe the area and scare out any problem critters. Indeed, any time you slam your foot down beside a crevice, crack or hole, you're risking taking a bite, because these are the places where snakes like to curl up. Bringing your foot down right beside one might be enough to get you bitten. The only ways you will get bitten or stung by creepy crawlies is if you abruptly enter their space and scare them, if they enter your space and get scared (usually in camp or at night), or if you provoke them. For that reason, slow, deliberate movement is essential at all times.
Sleep Off the Ground
Get up off the ground when you sleep. If you have bug netting, wrap yourself in it rather than just placing it on top of you. The rule of thumb when it comes to creepy crawlies is to minimize your exposure to them. In the desert, for example, where there are lots of scorpions around, I build my bed up off the ground so that I won't find one in with me when I wake up. Most creepy crawly encounters occur during the night when creatures such as scorpions, snakes and spiders seek out warmth, and you represent nothing more to them than a large mass of radiant energy. So as ridiculous as it may seem, they really just want to snuggle up with you. It's only when you move quickly, accidentally or out of panic that you get bitten. You could literally sleep through the night and not even realize that a number of poisonous creatures had crossed your skin.
Keep Clothing Off the Ground
Don't leave your clothes or shoes lying around on the ground while you sleep, and always shake them out and check them before you put them back on. Most scorpion stings occur on the foot after a scorpion has spent the night in a traveler's shoe or boot.
Wear Protective Clothing
Wear protective clothing if possible. Most snakebites occur at the ankles, so leather boots that cover this area can help. Bug jackets and pants, as well as general mosquito netting, help fend off most flying, biting insects.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Pay attention! Creepy crawlies are not that easy to spot, so stay alert as you move through their world. Look up. You don't want to walk headlong into a hornets' nest, or grab a branch that's covered in stinging ants. Look down if you're walking through heavy brush or tall grass. You are at much greater risk from creepy crawlies than predators and other dangerous animals due to their numbers. I once spent seven days alone in the jungle, and although I encountered no snakes, I saw lots of monster-sized poisonous ants, a couple of spiders and a poisonous frog.
Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Don't bother them and they won't bother you. In the Amazon jungle, a Waorani man toyed with a spider by poking it with a stick. He just kept poking and poking, and eventually the spider decided it had enough, jumped 5 feet (1.5 meters) at the guy's face and sank its fangs right into his nose. He later told me it was one of the most painful things he'd ever experienced.
This story is an excerpt from the book Survive! by survival expert Les Stroud, best known for his hit show "Survivorman" on the Discovery Channel.
Feature image by Laura Bombier.