By Cody Hooks
This is the best time of year to play outside and really experience the vastness of Northern New Mexico. It’s that special season after the spring winds (the kinds that can reach 60 miles an hour) have calmed down and before the bone-chilling nights of autumn give way to the full brunt of winter. Maybe an adventure means splashing by the río, seeking out new vistas or just stumbling upon whatever’s down the road. In any event, walking, hiking, climbing, biking and birding fill the days.
As fun as it is to go romping around New Mexico, playing outside in a place like Taos has its dangers.
Some hazards are inherent to the landscape — rain, hail, sun — but even the sheer amount of lands open to recreation coupled with relatively poor cell reception conspire to make this an alluring place of the wildest order, filled with as many potential dangers as it has venues for fun.
Among those hazards are little bites from some of the reptiles, insects and arachnids that call New Mexico their home.
The best way to avoid an unpleasant to life-threatening encounter with some of the smaller critters in the area is to be prepared and be aware. Don’t touch, sit, squat or lay down anywhere before taking a thorough look around.
Tarantula hawks are as fierce as their name suggests. The large wasps are black with orange wings and have one of the most painful stings of any insect on the planet. Luckily enough, humans aren’t their target. As the state insect, they are found throughout New Mexico — just like one of their most notable victims. Before a female tarantula hawk lays her eggs, she hunts down a tarantula spider and delivers a paralyzing sting. The young wasps hatch inside the dying tarantula. For humans, the sting is electric but, generally has no long-term effects.
It’s worth noting that the wasps’ prey, tarantulas, are generally reclusive except during the fall, when the males go looking for a mate and can be seen crossing roadways en mass. If picked up and agitated, tarantulas can bite and or shoot little hairs off their backs, which can irritate the skin.
Though not common, it’s entirely possible to come across a snake, even on a popular and busy trail. New Mexico has at least eight types of rattlesnakes. They can sense heat, making bare hands and exposed feet and ankles especially susceptible to a bite. Like most “dangerous” animals, they usually only attack people when they feel threatened and defensive. If you see a rattlesnake, back up and get some distance.
New Mexico sees about 75 to 100 rattlesnake bites every year, according to the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center. Burning, bruising, pain, swelling, nausea and sweating are among the potential symptoms. Their venomous saliva can kill if left untreated. If bitten, get help immediately. The center advises calling 911, as anti-venom is the only definitive treatment. Don’t use a tourniquet or try to suck out the venom.
You’re more likely to encounter a black widow spider around a house or shed than on the trail, but the same rules of awareness apply: don’t put your hand where you can’t see.
Black widows are incredibly common and docile. Aside from being shiny black with swollen abdomens, females’ red hourglass-shaped mark on their backs are tell-tale identifiers of a black widow. According to the state poison center, the bite of a black widow is most painful in the first 8 to 12 hours and can cause severe muscle spasms. The bites can even be deadly, especially in small kids.
Shake your shoes if you leave them outside.
The best of the rest
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. But most bugs aren’t dangerous. The dry mountains and mesa lands of the Southwest boast the most biodiversity in the world for bees and some other bugs, and most of them don’t sting. Truthfully, mosquitos and the humble prickly pear cactus are more likely to “sting” than anything else.
More information can be found at nmpoisoncenter.unm.edu.