When you are out camping in the great outdoors sooner or later you're going to get stung or bitten by any number of flying, creeping, crawling, or swimming creatures. Whether it is the sting of a scorpion in the southwestern desert, the bite of a copperhead in the Adirondacks of New York, the sting of a Portuguese Man of War at Padre Island National Seashore, or a bee sting in the alpine meadows of Glacier National Park, you should always be prepared whether you are camping in a recreational vehicle or hitting the wild backcountry.
Bites and stings can be divided into five distinct groups. Insect bites and stings, like those from ticks, chiggers, flies, ants, bees, wasps, hornets and mosquitoes. Spider and scorpion bites and stings. Like those from a variety of spiders, the more famous being the black widow and the brown recluse, and a variety of scorpions. The next is marine life stings. This can be from jellyfish, Portuguese Man of War, or stingrays. Snakebites can be from any number of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous. And finally animal bites from little critters like bats, rats, squirrels and chipmunks.
Insect bites from fleas, flies, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes and others are pretty evident. Ticks and chiggers may be found still attached. Larger black flies, horse flies, and fire ants may cause a sharp pain when they bite and leave a small welt. Fleas, May flies and mosquitoes are more insidious, slowly torturing you with itchy bites.
The good news is that most insect bites in North America are not medical emergencies. If a person has a particularly bad reaction the area bitten may be sore or very itchy. Fire ant bites leave behind pimples similar to a poison ivy infection. Topical Benadryl is very effective in stopping the symptoms of a bite. If the bite is more serious, say from a large horsefly, the area should be cleaned and bandaged. If a person receives a large number of bites from nastier insects like fire ants they should be watched for severe reactions.
Bees, wasps and hornets will offer a nastier encounter. Whether you are stung by the lowly honeybee or by the aggressive white-faced hornet, which may sting a person five or ten times in quick succession, it is not a pleasant experience. Bee stings will leave a barbed stinger behind which can be removed by scraping the skin with a nail or credit card. Wasp and hornet stings may leave a distinctive red circle with a small puncture mark on the skin. The effected area should be treated with an ice pack to reduce swelling and the victim should be watched carefully for a serious reaction.
Spider bites and scorpion stings are more serious. Any person that spends enough time in the outdoors will wake up one morning with a swollen hand or foot for no apparent reason. There are a number of spiders that can bite and can cause a rather nasty reaction when they do. Although the daddy long legs is the most poisonous spider you can handle, its mouth isn't big enough to grab on to a human. Black widow spiders, brown recluse and tarantulas are the most famous poisonous North American spiders you can encounter. The southwestern United States is also blessed to have a number of scorpion species, none that are fatally poisonous, unlike some of their African cousins which can pack a lethal punch.
Scorpion stings are also relatively common in the southwestern United States. In some areas scorpions are common household pests and are treated like termites and roaches in other parts of the country (yikes!). When a spider or scorpion bites/stings a person the victim will experience swelling and sharp pain in the affected area. In more serious cases fever, nausea, vomiting and difficult breathing can follow. Some spiders like the brown recluse can cause serious tissue damage around the area bitten.
When bitten by a spider, especially a brown recluse, tarantula or black widow, or when a scorpion stings you, you should seek out medical attention. Put a cold pack on the bite area. If the victim is having a serious reaction, make sure to keep the effected area below the heart.