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Title: Poisonous Dwellers of the Desert
Author: Dodge, Natt Noyes
Language: English
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                             OF THE DESERT

                                                    Popular Series No. 3
                               Southwest Parks and Monuments Association

    [Illustration: _Deserts of the Southwest are not desolate expanses
    of sand as many persons believe. This photograph, showing vegetation
    in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, is a typical
    illustration of the variety and density of plant growth in the
    Sonoran desert area of northwestern Mexico and southwestern

                             OF THE DESERT

                                                        by NATT N. DODGE

                                         TWELFTH EDITION (revised), 1970

Published in co-operation with the National Park Service by the
Southwest Parks and Monuments Association in keeping with one of its
objectives, to provide accurate and authentic information about the

    [Illustration: Association logo]

                               Southwest Parks and Monuments Association
                                                          Globe, Arizona
                           (formerly Southwestern Monuments Association)

       Copyright, 1952, by the Southwestern Monuments Association
              Box 1562, Gila Pueblo, Globe, Arizona 85501

                       Published October 21, 1947
                Second printing, revised, October, 1948
                Third printing, revised, December, 1948
                Fourth printing, revised, January, 1952
                       Fifth printing, June, 1953
                      Sixth printing, March, 1955
                    Seventh printing, December, 1957
                Eighth printing, revised, January, 1961
                  Ninth printing, revised, March, 1964
                       Tenth printing, June, 1966
                    Eleventh printing, August, 1968
                Twelfth printing, revised, August, 1970

                Printed in the United States of America
               by PABSCO Printing and Business Supply Co.
                             Globe, Arizona


  ILLUSTRATIONS                                                        vi
  EDITORIAL NOTE ABOUT INSECTICIDES                                   vii
  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS                                                    vii
  GIANT DESERT CENTIPEDE                                                3
  SCORPIONS                                                             4
      Treatment of scorpion stings                                      6
      Where scorpions live                                              7
  BLACK WIDOW SPIDER                                                    7
      Where black widows live                                           8
      Black widow bites                                                 9
      Treatment of black widow bites                                    9
      Control of black widows                                          10
  BROWN RECLUSE SPIDER                                                 10
      Where found                                                      11
      The brown recluse bite                                           11
      Treatment for bite of the brown recluse spider                   12
  TARANTULAS                                                           13
  CONENOSE BUG (cross bug, bellows bug, Walpai tiger, kissing bug)     14
      Habitat of conenose bug                                          14
      Treatment of conenose bites                                      16
      Control of conenose bugs                                         16
  ANTS, WASPS, HORNETS, BEES                                           17
      Ants and velvet ants                                             18
      Control of ants                                                  19
      Wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, bees                              19
  HONEYBEE                                                             20
      How a bee stings                                                 21
      Treatment of bee stings                                          22
  PUSS CATERPILLAR                                                     23
  ARIZONA CORAL SNAKE                                                  24
  RATTLESNAKES                                                         25
      Where rattlesnakes are found                                     25
      Protective clothing                                              26
      Rattlesnake relatives                                            26
      The sidewinder                                                   26
      Helpful precautions                                              27
      First-aid for rattlesnake bite                                   27
  BACK-FANGED SNAKES                                                   30
  GILA MONSTER                                                         31
      Food and habits                                                  32
      Poison of the Gila monster                                       33
  BANDED GECKO                                                         35
  SOLPUGID                                                             36
  JERUSALEM CRICKET                                                    36
  VINEGAROON                                                           37
  REFERENCES CITED                                                     39
  INDEX                                                                40


  Deserts of the Southwest                                 _Frontispiece_
  Map of western United States                                       viii
  Centipede                                                             2
  Enlarged view of under side of centipede’s head                       2
  Deadly and non-deadly scorpions                                       4
  Giant desert hairy scorpion in alert position                         5
  Underside of black widow spider                                       8
  Brown recluse spider                                                 11
  Tarantula                                                            13
  Conenose bugs                                                        15
  Common ant                                                           16
  Wasp                                                                 17
  Velvet ant                                                           18
  Bumblebee                                                            19
  Honeybees on the honeycomb                                           20
  Poison mechanism of worker bee                                       21
  Puss caterpillar                                                     23
  Arizona coral snake                                                  24
  Western diamondback rattlesnake                                      25
  Sidewinder or “horned” rattlesnake                                   27
  Poison mechanism of the rattlesnake                                  28
  Western black-headed snake                                           29
  Sonora lyre snake                                                    30
  Gila monster                                                         31
  Underside of the Gila monster                                        32
  Poison mechanism of the Gila monster                                 33
  Two adult banded geckos                                              35
  Solpugid or sun spider                                               36
  Jerusalem cricket (sand cricket or chaco)                            37
  Vinegaroon                                                           38


Recommendations given in previous editions of this book regarding use of
DDT and other “hard” pesticides are withdrawn in this 12th edition. We
advise, until questions about merits and dangers of these products are
resolved, that you contact a local agency before deciding what
pesticides, if any, to use.

We believe that every citizen should make a real effort to become
informed about pesticides and potential changes in them, for use or
non-use will likely have great impact on mankind’s future use of this


The author has conducted no original research, but has simply assembled
information provided by others who have made painstaking scientific
investigations into the lives, habits, and poisons of desert creatures.
To these men all credit for the information contained herein is due.

The writer considers it a privilege to present partially herein the
results of work conducted by Dr. Herbert L. Stahnke, Poisonous Animals
Laboratory, Arizona State University, on scorpions and other poisonous

Valuable assistance has been obtained from Dr. Howard K. Gloyd, former
director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. To Laurence M. Klauber and
the late C. B. Perkins, formerly of the San Diego Museum of Natural
History, are expressed our thanks for much valuable information relative
to poisonous snakes.

The help and cooperation of Dr. Sherwin F. Wood of Los Angeles City
College has made possible inclusion of the section on the conenose bug.

The late Dr. Forest Shreve, for many years director of the Desert
Laboratory in Tucson, and the late Dr. Charles Vorhies, zoologist at the
University of Arizona, proved to be founts of knowledge regarding plant
and animal life of the desert. The late Dr. C. P. Russell, of the
National Park Service, checked many statements to assure accuracy.

We are indebted to Dr. W. Ray Jones, physician and hobby beekeeper in
Seattle, Washington for his findings on, and treatment of, bee-sting
poisoning. Also to Dr. F. A. Shannon of Wickenburg, Arizona for his
especially helpful commentary. We take this opportunity to thank Dr.
Paul Wehrle, entomologist, University of Arizona, and Dr. W. J. Gertsch
of the American Museum of Natural History, for kindly checking the
contents for authenticity.

    [Illustration: _Map of western United States and Mexico showing
    location of deserts_]

                    Poisonous Dwellers of the Desert

The late Dr. Forrest Shreve of the Desert Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona,
stated that the principal characteristic of a desert is “deficient and
uncertain rainfall.” From our grammar school geographies we gained the
impression that a desert is a great expanse of sand piled into dunes by
the wind, without moisture or vegetation, a land of thirst, desolation,
even death.

Although sand dunes devoid of vegetation are characteristic of the
Sahara and some other deserts of the world, those of the United States
support a variety of plant and animal life which, through generations of
adaptation, are able to meet the conditions imposed by this environment
(see frontispiece). Persons who misunderstand our deserts fear them,
while others who have visited them become fascinated and return
periodically or settle down and live in them.

Some of the creatures living in deserts are known to be poisonous to
man. Western thriller fiction of press, screen, and TV has emphasized
and exaggerated this fact, developing in many people a wholly mistaken
fear of the desert and its inhabitants. In contrast, other persons may
under-estimate the possibility of injury from these animals and become

It is the purpose of this booklet to discuss accurately the various
poisonous dwellers of the desert, as well as to debunk some of the
superstitions and misunderstandings which have developed.

A majority of the poisonous creatures in the desert are by no means
restricted to that environment. Rattlesnakes, for example, so often
associated with the arid regions of the West, occur in nearly every
section of the United States.

“A poison,” states _Encyclopedia Brittanica_, “is a substance which, by
its direct action on the mucous membrane, tissues, or skin, or after
absorption into the circulatory system can, in the way which it is
administered, injuriously affect health or destroy life.” A poisonous
creature may be defined as one which produces a poison for the
administering of which it has developed a special mechanism.

Since, due to personal differences, the bite or sting of a poisonous
creature may injuriously affect the health of one person and not that of
another, and since the poison of one individual creature may be
insufficient to cause an unpleasant reaction, while that from several
hundred might produce severe illness or even death, it is difficult to
determine which creature should be included in a publication of this
nature. The writer, therefore, has exercised his judgment in discussing
in the following pages such creatures as he feels may offer a menace to
the welfare of a visitor to the desert. In addition, a few paragraphs
are included for the defense of several harmless desert dwellers which
are mistakenly believed poisonous and which, as a result, have been
mercilessly persecuted.

    [Illustration: _Giant desert centipede_]

    [Illustration: _Enlarged view of underside of centipede’s head,
    showing the double pair of jaws._
                                   (Photographs by Marvin H. Frost Sr.)]

It should be understood that the author has not himself conducted
scientific research among the desert animals regarding which he writes.
The material in this book is a digest of the findings of various
competent scientific and medical authorities, and has been carefully
checked for accuracy and authenticity.

Don’t be frightened as a result of reading this booklet. The desert is
just as safe—perhaps safer—for homemaking as many other parts of our

                         Giant desert centipede
                         (_Scolopendra heros_)

Many species of centipedes of various sizes and colors are found
throughout the world. The majority are small, harmless, and not
sufficiently numerous to be considered seriously, even as pests.

Usually they are found under boards, in cracks and crevices, in
basements and closets, and in other moist locations where they hide
during the day and venture forth at night in search of small insects for

The large, poisonous desert centipede attains a length of 6 or even 8
inches and has jaws of sufficient strength to inflict a painful bite.
Glands at the base of the jaw produce poison which causes the area about
the bite to swell and become feverish and painful. Persons who have been
bitten report that the swelling and tenderness may persist for several
weeks, that the bite sometimes suppurates and is difficult and slow to

_Because the bite of even a large centipede is usually a painful
inconvenience rather than a serious injury, no specific treatment has
been developed. Application of an antiseptic such as iodine immediately
following receipt of the bite, working it well into the fang punctures,
is advised. Bathing the site of the bite with strong ammonia will bring
relief if done immediately, while soaking the area in a solution of hot
Epsom salts may shorten the period of discomfort. Prompt treatment by a
physician will reduce duration and intensity of pain._

Although the bite of a large centipede is no joke, it is not cause for
fear or worry. Exaggerated stories of the deadly effects of the bite,
and reports that the tip of each leg carries a poisonous spur, have
caused many persons to be overly afraid of centipedes. Hysteria and
shock resulting from this unfounded fear probably have been the cause of
more suffering than the bites themselves.

The tip of each of the 42 legs of the giant desert centipede is equipped
with a sharp claw. It is possible when the centipede scurries across a
person’s arm or leg for these claws to make pin-point punctures.
Infection introduced through these tiny openings readily leads to the
belief that poison has been injected. Prompt application of an
antiseptic will greatly reduce the possibility of infection.

    [Illustration: _Left_: _Yellow, slender-tailed. Deadly species._
       Centruroides sculpturatus
    _Center_: _Striped-tail. Not deadly._
       Vejovis spinigeris
    _Right_: _Desert hairy. Large, not deadly._
       Hadrurus hirsutus]


More deaths have occurred in Arizona from scorpion sting than from the
bites and stings of all other creatures combined. It is apparent that
scorpions are dangerous, that all persons should be informed regarding
them, and that details of first-aid treatment should be common

In some parts of the South, scorpions are called “stinging lizards.”
This is unfortunate because it has caused many people to think of
lizards as poisonous and capable of stinging.

Not all scorpions are deadly. Danger from the two deadly species (one
shown above) which look so much alike that only an expert can tell them
apart, is greatest to children under 4 years of age. Unless prompt
action is taken small children might succumb to the poison from a single
sting from an individual of either of the deadly species. Older children
may die from the effect of several stings, and adults, especially those
in poor health, may suffer serious injuries.

Of the more than 20 species of scorpions recorded in Arizona where
detailed studies have been made, the two deadly forms have been found
only across the southern portion of the State and in the bottom of Grand
Canyon. As far as is now known, no other deadly species occur in the
Southwest, except in Mexico where there are several.

It is important, then, that all persons should recognize the deadly
species. Study the photograph. Note that the deadly species (left) is
about 2 inches in length, is straw colored, and that its entire body,
especially the joints of the legs, pincers, and “tail,” are long and
slender. It has a streamlined appearance. This is in contrast with the
stubby or chunky appearance of the many non-deadly species.

Scorpions sting, they do not bite. The pincers at the head end of the
body are for the purpose of holding the prey, which consists primarily
of soft-bodied insects, while the scorpion tears it to pieces with its

The sting is located at the extremity of the “tail” and consists of a
very sharp, curved tip attached to a bulbous organ containing the
poison-secreting glands and poison reservoir. The sting is driven into
the flesh of the victim by means of a quick, spring-like flick of the
“tail.” Muscular pressure forces the poison into the wound through two
tiny openings very near the sting tip. Thus the poison is injected
beneath the skin, making treatment difficult, as the impervious skin
renders surface application ineffective.

Whereas the poison of non-deadly species of scorpions is local in
effect, causing swelling and discoloration of the tissues in immediate
proximity to the point of puncture, that of the deadly species is
general over the entire body of the victim. There is intense pain at the
site of the sting but very little inflammation or swelling.

    [Illustration: _Giant desert hairy scorpion in alert position._]

According to Kent and Stahnke[1], “the victim soon becomes restless.
This increases to a degree that, in cases of small children, the patient
is entirely unable to cooperate with attendants. It turns, frets, and
does not remain quiet for an instant. The abdominal muscles may become
rigid, and there may be contractions of the arms and legs. Drooling of
saliva begins, and the heart rate increases. The temperature may reach
103 or 104 degrees. Cyanosis (skin turning blue) gradually appears, and
respiration becomes increasingly difficult, causing a reaction not
unlike that observed in a severe case of bronchial asthma. Involuntary
urination and defecation may occur. In fatal cases the above symptoms
may become so marked that apparently the child dies from exhaustion.

“In cases that recover, the acute symptoms subside in 12 hours or less.
In the adult, symptoms as enumerated may be encountered, but as a rule
they are less severe. Numbness is usually experienced at the site of the
sting. If one of the appendages is stung, the member may become
temporarily useless. Two cases of temporary blindness have been
experienced. Some patients complain of malaise (discomfort) for many
days following the sting. One patient developed a tachycardia (rapid
heart) lasting two weeks.”

Treatment of scorpion stings

Dr. Stahnke recommends the following treatment for a person stung by one
of the deadly scorpions:

_“First, apply a tight tourniquet near the point of puncture and between
it and the heart.... As soon as possible, place an ice pack on the site
of the sting. Have a pack of finely crushed ice wrapped in as thin a
cloth as possible. Cover and surround the area for about 10 to 12
inches. After the ice pack has been in place for approximately 5
minutes, remove the tourniquet._

_“If a person is stung on the hand, foot, or other region that can be
submerged completely, place the portion, as soon as possible, in an
ice-and-water mixture made of small lumps of ice (about half the size of
ice cubes) in a proportion of half ice and half water. Treatment should
not be continued longer than 2 hours._

_“NEVER put salt in the water. After the first 15 minutes, the hand or
foot must be removed for relief for 1 minute every 10 minutes in the
iced water.”_

_Dr. Stahnke continues: “If the patient is less than 3 years old, if the
patient has been stung several times, or if the patient has been stung
on the back of the neck, anywhere along the backbone, or on an area of
deep flesh like the buttock, thigh, or trunk of the body, or especially
on the genital organs, medical assistance should be obtained at once.”_

_Dr. F. A. Shannon advises that no person with disease involving the
circulation of the extremities should use iced water. Morphine is a
necessary tool in controlling pain, and barbiturates are useful for
control of convulsions._

Several hospitals in southern Arizona keep a supply of scorpion
antivenin and, in any case, the patient should be taken to a hospital as
quickly as possible. In all cases the first-aid treatment should be
applied and maintained until the patient is under the care of a

With adults, in case a physician is not available, the iced-water
treatment usually proves sufficient. Generally, after 2 hours of
iced-water use, there is no longer any danger, but should symptoms
reappear, treatment should be resumed.

Scorpion antivenin for stings of _Centruroides sculpturatus_ and _C.
gertschi_ is available at the Poisonous Animals Research Laboratory,
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. The recommended method of
treatment is the “L-C” method. The L stands for ligature and C for
cryotherapy (tourniquet and ice pack treatment).

_Treatment is as follows: “As soon as possible (after the sting has been
received) inject intramuscularly or subcutaneously, 5 to 10 cc. of
natural serum or 3 cc. of the concentrated. In serious cases, inject
intravenously.” No immediate untoward results have been noted, but some
cases of skin irritation develop later._

In cases of scorpion poisoning when antivenin is not available, the
following treatment is recommended[12]:

“_Use morphine with extreme caution. It has not been found effective in
the usual doses. Barbiturates are more effective and less dangerous.
Bromides in large doses are apparently of value. In those cases
characterized by severe pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid in the
lungs) atropine is indicated along with general supportive measures.
Compresses, using a fairly concentrated ammonium hydroxide solution,
have been found helpful if applied within a few moments. If applied for
the first time about 10 minutes after the sting, no apparent benefit is

Where scorpions live

Scorpions normally remain in hiding during the day, coming out in search
of insects at night. The deadly species are commonly found under bark on
old stumps, in lumber piles, or in firewood piled in dark corners. It is
not unusual to find them in basements or in linen closets. Adults may
find an unpleasant surprise in a shoe or a piece of clothing taken from
a closet or dresser drawer. Legs of cribs or children’s beds may be
placed in cans containing kerosene or in wide-mouthed jars.

Moral: Keep your garage, basement, and premises in general, clean, tidy,
and free from insects on which scorpions feed. Screen children’s cribs,
and pull the sheets clear back before putting the youngsters to bed.
Shake out your shoes before putting them on, and inspect sheets,
blankets, or clothing which have been in closets or drawers.

                           Black widow spider
                        (_Lactrodectus mactans_)

Although spiders in general produce venom with which to paralyze their
prey, only a very few have fangs of sufficient length or power to
penetrate human skin, or venom of sufficient quantity or potency to
affect human health.

There are two poisons present in spider venom: a toxin which cause local
symptoms, and a toxalbumin producing general symptoms. In those spiders
whose bites produce systematic disturbances it is believed that the
latter poison predominates.

Where black widows live

Black widows spin their webs in crevices between rocks, under logs or
overhanging banks, in abandoned rodent holes, and in rock and wood
piles. Indoors they are most frequently encountered in dark corners of
garages, basements, and stables.

    [Illustration: _Underside of black widow spider showing
    characteristic red “hourglass” mark on the abdomen by which this
    species may be recognized._]

A favorite and especially dangerous location in which a black widow
establishes her home is beneath the seat of a pit toilet. Such a
location is ideal for the spider because it is dark, is not usually
disturbed, and insects, especially flies, upon which the spiders feed,
are abundant. Humans using the toilet, unaware of the presence of the
spider, arouse her by breaking or agitating her web, and offer
especially tender and susceptible portions of their anatomies for her

Pit toilets in warm climates should always be built with hinged seats
which should be raised and inspected frequently. As a further
precaution, the underside of the seats should be treated with creosote,
an effective repellent.

Although the majority of people now recognize the black widow, some do
not, hence they kill all dark-colored spiders on general principles.
This is neither necessary nor desirable.

The female black widow is a medium-sized, glossy black, solitary spider
with a globular abdomen spectacularly marked on the underside with a
bright red spot roughly the shape of an hourglass. The normal position
of the spider is hanging upside down in her web so that the “hourglass”
is plainly visible if she is below the level of the eye. Her overall
length is 1 to 1¼ inches.

The males are much smaller and, like the immature females, are grey in
color and variously striped and spotted.

Adult females spin egg cocoons during the warm season; each cocoon
contains approximately 300 to 500 eggs which hatch in about 30 days. As
many as nine broods per year have been recorded. The young grow fast but
do not mature until the following spring or summer.

Black widow bites

Although black widows ferociously pounce upon insects or other spiders
much larger than themselves which become entangled in their webs, they
are by nature retiring and bite humans only when restrained from escape
by contact with the body of man.

The fangs, which are about one-fiftieth of an inch in length, serve to
inject from two large glands the venom which is reported to be much more
virulent per unit than that of the rattlesnake.

There is some pain and swelling at the site of the bite. The pain
spreads throughout the body, centering at the extremities, which become
cramped, and over the abdomen, where the muscles become rigid. There is
nausea and vomiting, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, ringing in the
ears, and headache. Blood pressure is raised, eye pupils are dilated and
the reflexes are overactive. Medical records, according to Bogen[2],
show that “despite its severe symptoms, arachnidism (poisoning by
spider, tick, or scorpion) is, in the majority of cases, a self-limiting
condition, and generally clears up spontaneously within a few days,”
although cases of death resulting from black widow bites are on

Treatment of black widow bites

_Since the venom of the black widow, among other properties, appears to
affect the nervous system, its effect is almost instantaneous, and most
first-aid measures are of little value._

_Stahnke has found that the iced-water treatment (as described in detail
in the scorpion section of this booklet) is beneficial. The points of
puncture should be treated with iodine, the patient kept as quiet as
possible, and an ice pack applied or the part submerged in iced-water,
and a physician summoned immediately._

_Baerg[4] recommends hot baths—as hot as the patient can endure. These
should be used only in cases of advanced poisoning, never immediately
after the bite is received._

_Internal use of alcohol is dangerous, and a person bitten when
intoxicated would have much less chance of recovery._

Professional treatment consists mostly in the use of opiates,
hydrotherapy, and similar measures to alleviate the acute pain. Of more
than 75 different remedies used, three seem to be outstanding as
palliatives: spinal puncture, intravenous injections of Epsom salts, and
intramuscular administration of convalescent serum when given within 8
hours. Dr. Charles Barton, of Los Angeles, recommends intramuscular or
intravenous injection of calcium gluconate, 10 cc. in a 10 per cent
solution. The patient should be encouraged to drink as much water as he
will. He usually leaves the hospital on the fourth day. Recent
experiments with an injection of neostigmine followed by one of atropine
have had encouraging results, and the use of ACTH in several cases has
had spectacular results, according to _Readers’ Digest_ (Nov. 1951, p.

Control of black widows

Because of their wide distribution and secretive habits, black widows
are difficult to control. Basements, outbuildings, and garages should be
cleaned frequently, and black widow webs and eggs destroyed. If
accessible, the spider may be dislodged from her web with a broom, and
smashed. The use of a blowtorch, where there is no fire hazard, is
effective for both spiders and egg cocoons. Insect sprays, in general,
are ineffectual.

                          Brown recluse spider
                       and its venomous relatives

Until recently the black widow was considered the only spider in the
United States dangerous to man. In 1955, physicians in Missouri and
Arkansas began treating persons suffering from the bite of the brown
recluse spider, whose poison caused serious damage to the skin at the
site of the puncture and often produced a severe systemic reaction
sometimes fatal to young children.

The spider is approximately ⁵/₁₆ inch in length, dark brown to fawn,
with long legs. A violin-shaped spot on the upper side of the
cephalothorax (head portion) is the only noticeable identification
giving rise to another common name—fiddleback spider. It is also known
as brown spider, or brown house spider.

Little has been published on its life history, but it has been reported
from Kansas, Illinois, the Gulf Coast, and from Tennessee to Oklahoma.
It is extending its territory westward and has recently been reported
from southeastern New Mexico and southern California. People are
contributing to the rapid geographical spread of this species by
unknowingly carrying it across state lines in their luggage. The brown
recluse spider, according to Paul N. Morgan, research microbiologist at
the Little Rock, Arkansas, Veterans Administration Hospital,
“constitutes a hazard to the health of man, perhaps greater than the
Black Widow.”

    [Illustration: _Brown recluse spider_
 (Photo—Division of Dermatology Dept. of Medicine U. of Arkansas Medical

Where found

It is found in open fields and rocky bluffs but thrives particularly
well in outhouses, garages, dark closets, storerooms, and in piles of
sacking or old clothing. Its web is large and irregular.

The brown recluse bite

Because of the spider’s nocturnal and retiring habits few people are
bitten, in spite of a large spider population. According to an article
in the August, 1963 Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society, “there may
be mild transitory stinging at the time of the bite, but there is little
associated early pain. The patient may be completely unaware he has been
bitten, and the spider is seldom seen. Only after 2 to 8 hours does
pain, varying from mild to severe, begin. After several days an ulcer
may form at the site of the bite. The venom appears to contain a
spreading factor resulting in a spread of the necrosis or tissue
destruction. In some instances, the ulcer may be so large that skin
grafting is required, but the graft may take poorly or not at all. “The
bite may also produce serious systemic symptoms including fever, chills,
weakness, vomiting, joint pain, and a spotty skin eruption, all
occurring within 24-48 hours after the venom injection.”

Treatment for bite of the brown recluse spider

Physicians at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, Little Rock,
prefer the prompt administration of corticosteroids, stating, “Large
doses given early may completely prevent the gangrenous response as well
as the systemic reaction. The dosage schedule which we have found most
effective is: 80 mg. of methylprednisolone (Deep-Medrol) intramuscularly
immediately followed by one or two additional doses of same amount at
24-48 hour intervals. Subsequently, step wise decrease to 40, 20, 10
mg., every 24-48 hours, depending on the patient’s response, is carried

Dr. Herbert L Stahnke, Director of the Arizona Poisonous Animals
Research Laboratory, reports that an antivenin has been prepared in
South America to control both the local and general symptoms from the
bite of a closely related species of _Loxosceles_. He states, “locally
there seems to be a favorable response to hydroxyzine, 100 mg. four
times a day. I would say that cryotherapy, as we recommend it, would
prevent all symptoms. I would recommend that the site of the bite be
packed in crushed ice for 6 to 8 hours, after which the patient should
be kept warm to the point of perspiration with the ice pack continuing
for a total of 24 hours. In other words, treated like a pit viper bite,
but over a much shorter period of time.” Avoid narcotics (morphine,
demerol, dilaudid, codeine, etc.) since they enhance the systemic

Although the brown recluse has not yet been reported in Arizona, it may
be expected at any time, according to Dr. Mont A. Cazier, professor of
zoology at Arizona State University at Tempe. In the meantime, studies
are being made of the several close relatives of _Loxosceles reclusa_
known to be present in the state. Among these is _L. unicolor_, first
collected near Littlefield and Virgin Narrows in 1932. Equally poisonous
with _reclusa_ is the similar _L. laeta_, also found in Arizona. Other
members of the genus, _L. deserta_ and _L. arizonica_, have been known
to live in Arizona and elsewhere in the Southwest for more than three
decades, but no studies have been made of their venom. Dr. Willis J.
Gertsch, world famous authority on spiders, believes that there may be
as many as 20 species of _Loxosceles_ in the Southwest. Several reports
by persons who have been bitten by spiders describe reactions similar to
those caused by the bite of the brown recluse.

According to Dr. Findley E. Russell, toxicology researcher of the
University of Southern California Medical School, the “venom” injected
by the brown spider is not really a toxin but a complete chemical that
inhibits the normal action of infection-fighting antibodies in the human

                           (_Avicularia_ sp.)

Known to naturalists as bird spiders, the large hairy members of the
genera _Avicularia_, _Dugesiella_, and _Aphonopelma_ of the arid
Southwest are commonly called tarantulas.

    [Illustration: _Tarantula_
                                         (Photo by Marvin H. Frost Sr.)]

This name originated in southern Italy where, centuries ago, according
to a story, in the little town of Tarantum (now Taranto) there developed
an epidemic of “tarentism” supposedly resulting from the bite of a large
wolf spider (_Lycosa tarantula_). Victims were affected with melancholy,
stupor, and an irresistible desire to dance. Presumably, the Neapolitan
folk dance, Tarentella, came about as a result of an effort to develop a
cure for tarentism.

Early day immigrants brought to the western hemisphere both the
unreasoning fear of spider bites and the name “tarantula,” which they
applied to the large and fearsome-looking bird spider of the Southwest.
Since that time this superstitious fear has become established among the
uneducated and uninformed people of the southwestern United States,
where the bird spiders are numerous.

It has been spread and aggravated by prolific writers of western
thrillers, published in the pulp-paper magazines. Fantastic tales in
which the big spiders followed their victims, sprang upon them from
distances of from 6 to 10 feet, and inflicted painful bites resulting in
lingering, agonizing death have had wide circulation and have found a
credulous audience.

Tarantulas are nearsighted, and their habit of pouncing upon
grasshoppers and other large insects on which they prey is probably the
basis for exaggerated stories of their jumping abilities. Their strong,
sharp fangs can inflict a painful bite, but they use them only rarely in
defense against human molestation. Stahnke states that any effects
produced appear to be the result of bacterial infection rather than that
of poison, although a mild poison is present. Treatment of tarantula
bite with iodine or similar antiseptic is recommended.

One species of _Avicularia_ and several of _Aphonopelma_ range
throughout the Southwest where they are active during spring, summer,
and autumn months. They live in web-lined holes in the ground, usually
located on south-facing slopes. The males are commonly encountered
traveling across country, and are particularly noticeable as they cross
a highway.

Preying upon insects, these large and interesting desert dwellers are
beneficial rather than harmful to mankind, and deserve protection.

Unfortunately, many become the innocent victims of the wholly
unwarranted fear in which they are held because of the fantastic stories
regarding their purported poisonous characteristics.

                              Conenose bug
      (Kissing bug, Bellows bug, Walpai tiger, Cross bug, others)
                            (_Triatoma_ sp.)

Although not limited to the deserts of the Southwest, conenose bugs, of
which there are several species, are commonly associated with
subtropical climates.

Certain South American species of the family _Reduviidae_ are disease
carrying and there is evidence the conenoses in San Diego County,
California, are infected with a disease-producing flagellate. Lack of
large bug populations in close contact with man and ineffective
transmission habits protect man in the Southwest from disease contacts.
However, the site of the bug’s bite becomes inflamed, and swelling may
spread over an area up to a foot in diameter.

In general appearance, conenose bugs resemble assassin and squash bugs,
with protruding eyes at the base of a cone-shaped snout and are about
the same size. Some species are considerably smaller, while others
attain a length of an inch or more.

Habitat of conenose bugs

Since conenose bugs subsist upon animal blood which they suck from the
capillaries by inserting the stylets of the proboscis, they seek
locations where there is a source of blood. These include livestock
barns, poultry houses, and human habitations.

    [Illustration: _Conenose bugs_—Triatoma protracta
    _Adult male (rounded abdomen); Adult female (pointed abdomen)_
                                (Photo courtesy of Dr. Sherwin F. Wood)]

Studies conducted by Wehrle[5] show that conenoses are parasitic on
woodrats and breed in the dens of these rodents. They are also found in
meadow vole (mouse) nests. Early in May the winged conenose adults begin
dispersal flights, invading human habitations in the vicinity of woodrat
dens. Although reported as most active in May and June, they may be
expected throughout the summer until October, and are much more numerous
in the country than in cities.

During the daytime, the insects remain hidden under rugs, between
quilts, or even in bedding or behind drapes. They may be seen during the
evening on ceiling beams, walls, curtains, and around windows. They are
alert and difficult to catch.

Conenose bugs do not attack people until the victim is quiet or asleep,
and may take blood without awakening the host. Immediately after being
bitten, however, the victim is awakened by severe itching. The area
about the puncture swells and becomes red and feverish. Welts at the
point of puncture are hard, and may be 1 to 3 inches in diameter.

About 5% of the people repeatedly bitten develop severe allergic
reactions with burning pain and itching at the site of the bite, itching
on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, neck, and groin; general
body swelling, and a nettle-like rash over the body. Some persons feel
ill, with light depression followed by quickening of the pulse. Others
are faint, weak, and nauseated. In very severe allergy these symptoms
may lead to anaphylactic shock and unconsciousness.

Treatment of conenose bites

Although a specific treatment for conenose bites has not been developed,
some physicians use epinephrine. More promising results appear possible
with antihistamine preparations (under doctor’s prescription) such as
benadryl and pyribenzamine, which have been effective by mouth, and in
severe reactions, by intravenous injections.

Matheson[6] writes: “When a blood-sucking insect bites, it is always
possible that the proboscis may be contaminated with pathogenic
organisms. If such organisms become localized near the point of puncture
or gain access to the blood stream, results may be serious. It is always
wise to use some disinfectant such as alcohol, tincture of iodine, etc.,
and to press out the blood, if possible, from bites made by insects.”
Antibiotics are frequently necessary to control the extremely high
percentage of secondary infections.

Physicians recommend the application of a hot Epsom salt pack over the
point of puncture as soon as possible after the bite has been received.
Application of antiphlogistine alleviates the severe itching. ACTH is
recommended by some physicians. Hydrocortizone ointments reduce the skin
eruptions and local pain.

Control of conenose bugs

Prevention is more satisfactory than treatment, and since conenoses live
in woodrat dens, these rodents should be eliminated from the vicinity.
Weatherstripping around all permanent doors and screen doors,
tight-fitting, holeless screens in all windows, and fine screens in
fireplace chimneys will help to keep the bugs out of houses.
Occasionally they may be seen on walls and ceilings in the evening, and
may be killed with a flyswatter.

If impossible to keep the insects out of the house, sleeping persons may
be protected by the use of mosquito netting. It is especially important
that the beds of babies and young children should be safe-guarded
because of the danger from scorpions.

    [Illustration: _Common ant_]

Bedding should be shaken thoroughly just before children retire, because
both scorpions and conenose bugs have a habit of concealing themselves
in bedding during the daytime.

                       Ants, wasps, hornets, bees

Stinging insects all belong to the group _Hymenoptera_ and consist of
the families _Apidae_ (honeybee, etc.), _Bombidae_ (bumblebee),
_Vespidae_ (wasps and hornets), _Sphecidae_ (thread-waisted wasps),
_Mutillidae_ (velvet ants), and _Formicidae_ (the ants).

    [Illustration: _Wasp_]

_In general, the only treatment recommended for insect stings is to
bathe the parts with ordinary liquid household bluing just as soon as
possible after the sting has been received, and apply hot compresses.
However, certain specific treatments are advised, depending upon the
particular species or condition._

Some persons are extremely susceptible to insect bites and stings, and
preliminary work has been done in trying to immunize those sensitive
individuals, but, in general, with very little success. The problem of
immunizing or desensitizing persons who are allergic to insect bites and
stings is one of considerable importance, as such unfortunate persons
will testify.

Because of the fact that honeybees are of such great economic
importance, not only as producers of an important food but also as
pollenizers of fruit, vegetable, seed, and other crops, they will be
discussed separately from the other stinging insects.

Everyone is familiar with ants, wasps, hornets, and bumblebees, and
there are very few persons who have not had unpleasant experiences with
one or more of these groups of insects.

_Ants and velvet ants_

Velvet ants, which are in reality wingless wasps and not true ants, are
not as well known as the others, although the little creatures that
scurry about like brightly dyed bits of cotton are quite numerous in the

The primary purpose of the sting is to paralyze or kill their prey,
although it becomes more important as a weapon of defense with insects
which do not prey upon or parasitize other creatures. Although the
solitary insects use their poison as a means of personal defense if
attacked or imposed upon, the social insects such as ants, social wasps
and hornets, honeybees, and others, rally to the defense of their nests
and in mass attacks against an intruder may cause painful and sometimes
serious injury.

Although the small amount of poison introduced beneath the skin by the
sting of one of these creatures usually causes only temporary
discomfort, there are sometimes after effects which may be more intense
and of longer duration with some persons than with others. In general,
stinging insects may be considered more as a nuisance than a menace,
although a person attacked by a large number, or subjected to their
stings for some length of time, might receive serious and perhaps fatal
injuries. Known deaths have been caused by the sting of imported fire
ants in southeastern States. The species is believed to be spreading.
Treatment by a physician may include the use of ACTH and calmitol.

Although ants and velvet ants are commonly considered as wingless, they
are, actually, winged. Male velvet ants have wings whereas the females
are normally without wings. The females have a very effective sting, and
if picked up or pinched they make every effort to use it, at the same
time emitting a peculiar faint squeaking sound.

True ants, of which there are hundreds of species, are social insects
living in colonies containing the mother, or queen, which becomes
wingless after fertilization; numerous workers, or non-fertile females;
and young winged males and females.

    [Illustration: _Velvet ant_]

_Control of ants_

Ants of various species are numerous on the desert, some of them
becoming serious household pests, difficult to control.

There are effective ant poisons on the market, but the surest method of
control is to find the nest and destroy it. Ants that are household
pests usually are either grease eaters or sweet eaters, and the proper
poison for the specific type should be obtained in attempting to rid the
house of these insects.

_Wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, bees_

Wasps, hornets, yellowjackets, and bees of many species are common in
the desert, some species being solitary in habit while others live in
colonies or nests which they defend with great pugnacity.

    [Illustration: _Bumblebee_]

Although humans have little to fear from these insects if they leave
them strictly alone, some species select nest sites beneath overhanging
eaves or in attics or lofts, thus becoming persistent pests. They are
usually tolerated until one or more members of the family are stung.

Other species are attracted to human habitations by the presence of
sweets or other edibles, and make persistent nuisances of themselves.
They are capable of inflicting painful injuries, and are greatly feared
by many persons.

_Not usually serious, these injuries do not respond to any treatment
that has yet been developed. Immediate application of strong ammonium
hydroxide (household ammonia) is a home treatment which has_ _been found
helpful for ant stings, and, in most cases, for the stings of other

_A piece of ice held at the point of puncture will relieve the pain and
burning sensation in the majority of cases of insect sting._

_In serious cases, of course, the services of a physician should be
obtained immediately._

                           (_Apis mellifera_)

At first thought it may seem unjustified to include the common honeybee
in a discussion of poisonous creatures of the desert. Although the
honeybee is not a desert native, having been imported from Europe, it
has established itself in the wild state throughout the Southwest in
locations providing adequate moisture and sufficient nectar-producing

    [Illustration: _Honeybees on the honeycomb_]

Throughout much of the United States honeybees are encountered in
numbers only in apiaries operated by beekeepers, or in bee trees where
the insects have established themselves. In the desert climatic
conditions are ideal for honeybees, and they have become widespread and
well established.

They obtain water at springs, seeps, waterholes, cattle tanks, dripping
faucets, and leaking water containers, often congregating in such
numbers around sources of water that they become a distinct nuisance to
men and to animals. Individual honeybees are frequently found in
flowers, or may fly in through an open automobile window, and sting one
of the car’s occupants. Small children sometimes receive stings while
playing on white clover lawns or going barefoot. Farm boys may be
severely stung as a result of molesting beehives or throwing stones at
bees’ nests in trees or caves.

Normally, poison introduced by the sting of a honeybee is local in
effect and little more than a painful inconvenience to the person stung.
There are many cases on record, however, of persons and domestic animals
receiving stings from so many of the enraged insects that serious and
even fatal results have followed.

During the past half century, medical records show a number of deaths
each resulting from a single sting. Jones[7] made an intensive study of
this problem and was able to show conclusively that occasional
individuals become supersensitive to honeybee venom. If persons in such
condition receive even the small amount of poison injected by a single
sting, the resulting excessive susceptibility may be fatal unless proper
treatment is administered immediately. To such persons the honeybee is
definitely a poisonous and dangerous creature.

    [Illustration: _Poison mechanism of worker bee, greatly enlarged._]

  1. Poison sack or reservoir.
  2. Muscles which force sting into flesh and pump poison from sack.
          These muscles continue operating for as long as 20 minutes
          after the sting has been torn from the bee’s body.
  3. Sheath within which shafts of sting slide.
  4. Barbed tip of sting. These barbs hold the sting in the flesh of the
          victim so securely as to tear the sting from the body of the

_How a bee stings_

The poison-injecting mechanism of the worker bee is located within the
extremity of the abdomen and consists of a barbed sting at the base of
which is attached a sack, or reservoir, containing the poison. Male bees
(drones) have no sting, and the queen reserves hers for possible use in
battle with a rival queen.

In the act of stinging, the bee forces the tip of the sting through the
skin of the victim, where it becomes imbedded, being held by the barbs.
In escaping the bee tears away, leaving the sting, poison sack, and
attached muscles and viscera. Incidentally, this rupture results in the
death of the bee.

Capillarity and the spasmodic movement of the attached muscles force the
poison from the sack through the hollow shaft of the sting into the

_Treatment of bee sting_

_To counteract this, the first thing that anyone should do when stung by
a honeybee is to SCRAPE out the sting. This may be done with a knife
blade or even with the fingernail, although the latter is far from
sanitary. NEVER PULL OUT THE STING, because in grasping the protruding
poison sack between the thumb and forefinger, the sack is certain to be
pinched and the poison squeezed into the wound._

_Since, under normal conditions, it takes several seconds for the
contents of the sack to work into the puncture, prompt removal of the
sting with the attached sack prevents much of the poison from being

_Application of strong household ammonia just as soon as the sting is
scraped out is helpful in allaying the pain._

_If a person receives a great number of stings, a physician should be
summoned at once. The victim should be undressed, put in bed, and all of
the sting scraped out. All parts of the body that have received stings
should be covered with cloths soaked in hot water and wrung out. These
applications should be as hot as the victim can endure._

Persons who are supersensitive to bee-sting venom show the following
symptoms when stung: the skin over the entire body breaks out in lumpy
welts, palms of the hands and soles of the feet itch. This is followed
by headache, nausea, and vomiting. Breathing becomes labored and heart
action is rapid and weak.

As soon as such symptoms are noted, a physician should be summoned or
the victim taken to a hospital. Treatment consists of frequent, small,
hypodermic injections of epinephrine in the ratio of one part of
epinephrine to 1,000 parts of water. Dr. W. Ray Jones[7], who developed
and perfected this treatment, reports that it is immediately effective
and recommends that all commercial beekeepers provide themselves with
hypodermic kits and a small supply of epinephrine.

Even persons who are apparently immune to bee-sting venom through having
received bee stings during the course of many years of work in the
apiary, may suddenly develop supersensitivity. The treatment is
relatively simple, may be self-administered, and has already proved
effective in treating serious cases of excessive susceptibility
resulting from supersensitive persons receiving bee stings.

Experimental use of calcium lactate to counteract “sting shock”
indicates a high degree of success. Physicians should investigate “Death
by Sting Shock,” p 234, _Science News Letter_, April 9, 1955. Use of
antihistamines or a hormone of the cortizone family has had some

                            Puss Caterpillar
                       (_Megalopyge opercularis_)

Superficially resembling a tiny, light, golden-yellow kitten, the puss
caterpillar is a short, bushy larva of a small gray-brown moth with
whitish underwings. When disturbed, the caterpillar rears back on its
hind legs and “makes a face.” The species has long been widespread
throughout the southern states feeding on the foliage of oak, elm, plum,
and sycamore trees. They have been found also in truck gardens and
orchards. Recently they have invaded the desert mountains of the
Southwest, having been reported by Stahnke as especially numerous in the
Globe-Miami area of Arizona, feeding on the foliage of oaks.

    [Illustration: _Puss caterpillar_
                                      (Courtesy Dr. Herbert L. Stahnke)]

Because of their long, silky hairs, children are tempted to touch them.
Under the hairs are small protrusions, each bearing a circlet of very
small spines resembling tiny porcupine quills. The venom is injected
when these spines pierce the child’s skin and the tips break off,
producing a burning, itching, irritated, inflamed area. The welts,
ranging in size from a dime to a dollar, are sometimes followed by
severe muscle cramps and headache. Not lethal, the toxin may cause
enough sleeplessness in a child to reduce his resistance to other

Treatment suggested by Dr. Bernard J. Collopy, Assistant Medical
Director of the Miami-Inspiration Hospital of Miami, Arizona, consists
of immersing the inflamed area in iced water for thirty minutes. Remove
for one minute at ten minute intervals for relief from the cold. The
skin may blister and peel at the site much as in the case of a first
degree burn, but should heal completely in ten days. Some physicians
suggest an opiate for relief of pain in severe cases. Cooling lotions
may be applied to relieve the itching.

                          Arizona coral snake
                      (_Micruroides euryxanthus_)

The coral snake, of which there are two species in the United States,
belongs to the _Elapine_ group, which is represented in the Old World by
the cobras and other poisonous snakes. These two species, the coral
snake of the Gulf States, and the smaller Arizona coral snake whose
range extends into the desert lands of southern New Mexico and Arizona,
are the only representatives of the _Elapine_ group found in this

    [Illustration: _Arizona coral snake_
                                        (Photo by Marvin H. Frost, Sr.)]

The Arizona coral is shy and secretive in its habits, timid rather than
pugnacious, and it is so rarely seen that little is known of its habits.

The poison mechanism of the coral snake is somewhat different from that
of the pit viper group, to which the copperheads, cottonmouths, and
rattlesnakes belong. The teeth of the coral are short, and to be
effective the coral snake must chew rather than strike its victim.

The Arizona coral snake is so small—rarely reaching 2 feet in length—and
its mouth is so tiny, that it would be very difficult for it to bite an
adult human. It is conceivable that a small child playing with one might
be bitten.

Because of its close resemblance to several ringed or banded snakes of
the desert and also to the Arizona mountain kingsnake, or “coral”
kingsnake, of the ponderosa pine highlands of the Southwest, a brief
description of the Arizona coral snake is indicated. One of the
beautifully spectacular snakes of the desert, it is marked by bands of
dark red, cream, and black, which encircle the body. Superficially the
markings of the Arizona mountain kingsnake and other tricolored ringed
snakes appear similar. However, the red of the kingsnake and of others
is usually brighter, and the black bands narrower than those of the

Definite identification is provided by the relationship of the colors to
each other, the arrangement on the Arizona coral snake being red, cream,
black, cream, red, cream, black, cream. The bands of the Arizona coral
snake entirely circle the body and its snout is black.

                        (Genus _Crotalus_, spp.)

Thirty species and subspecies of rattlesnakes occur in the United
States, more than half of this number being found in the Southwest.
Because they have been killed on sight for years, their numbers have
been considerably reduced in densely populated areas. For this reason,
together with emphasis placed upon their poisonous characteristics by
some writers of western thriller fiction, rattlesnakes are considered by
many people to be a serious menace in the thinly populated portions of
the arid West[8].

    [Illustration: _Western diamondback rattlesnake_ (_Crotalus atrox._)
                                                (Photo by Earl Jackson)]

_Where rattlesnakes are found_

In the hot desert regions of the Southwest rattlesnakes are usually
abroad at night during the summer months, as they have no controlling
system for body temperature and cannot endure the heat at ground surface
during the hours of sunlight. In spring and autumn they may be
encountered in the daytime but during December, January, and February
they are in hibernation and are rarely or never seen.

Their food consists principally of lizards and small rodents such as
ground squirrels, rats, mice, pocket gophers and young rabbits. They are
sometimes found along irrigation canal banks where they go for water,
and because they find rodents congregating there for the same reason.
Unless surprised, cornered, teased, handled, or injured, a rattlesnake
usually will try to remain hidden or will endeavor to crawl away rather
than strike. Because they are attracted to places where small rodents
abound, they are sometimes encountered around barns and outbuildings.
They occasionally enter abandoned structures in search of food or to
escape from the heat of the sun.

_Protective clothing_

Because a rattlesnake may be met at almost any time, except during the
winter months, by a person who lives, works, or visits in the desert, he
should be ever alert. If hiking or climbing through country where
rattlesnakes are known to be abundant, he should wear clothing that will
protect him from a possible bite.

Pope[9] states that records kept during 1928 and 1929 show that 98 per
cent of snake bites occurred below the knee or on the hand or forearm.
When in snake country, the hiker should wear knee-high boots or
leggings, and should never place his hand on a rock or ledge above the
level of his eyes. In other words, watch your step, and look before you
reach! Apparently rattlesnakes may strike at a quick movement and are
very sensitive to the body warmth of a nearby warm-blooded creature.

_Rattlesnake relatives_

Rattlesnakes belong to the group known as the pit vipers, which includes
the cottonmouths and the copperheads. The latter do not occur in the
desert, so they do not come within the province of this publication.
Snakes of the pit viper group are characterized by a noticeable
depression, or pit, found almost halfway between the eye and the
nostril, but slightly lower, on each side of the head.

Of the several species found in the desert, some, such as the western
diamondback rattlesnake have a wide range, while others are restricted
to limited areas. Some species attain large size, while others are quite
small; some are inclined to be pugnacious, while others are more or less
docile. All are dangerous!

It is not within the scope of this publication to enter into a
discussion of the many species, so the reader who wishes to pursue that
subject further is referred to Klauber’s publication on the

_The Sidewinder_

There is one rattlesnake of the desert that should be especially
mentioned: the sidewinder, or the little horned rattlesnake. It is
called sidewinder because of the peculiar method of locomotion that
enables it to progress in the sandy habitat which it frequents. Unable
to get sufficient traction in loose sand by moving as other snakes do,
it throws a portion of its body ahead as a loop, thus serving to anchor
or pull the rest of the body ahead. Thus it progresses sideways in a
looping, or winding, motion most interesting to observe.

    [Illustration: _Sidewinder or “horned” rattlesnake_]

Although the term sidewinder is often used loosely in referring to other
species of rattlesnakes, it actually applies only to this particular
species—_Crotalus cerastes_.

_Helpful precautions_

In snake country, it is important to take a flashlight along whenever
there is occasion to go outside at night in summer to be sure that there
are no rattlesnakes lying across your path. If you sleep out of doors.
keep your bed off the ground if possible. The widely believed statement
that, “a rattlesnake will not crawl across a hair rope” is not true,
although such a statement will often precipitate an argument.

Persons much in the field should provide themselves with a suction-type
snakebite kit, and should know how to use it. Although you stand 200
chances of being killed by an automobile to one of dying from snakebite,
the price of a suction-type kit is cheap insurance against that

_First aid for rattlesnake bite_

_If, in spite of all precautions, you or some companion should be bitten
by a rattlesnake, first-aid should be rendered at once. This is not_
_difficult if you have a snakebite kit, and it is possible even if you
do not._

_The following steps are quite universally accepted:_

_1. Apply a tourniquet a short distance above the bite (that is between
it and the heart) but do not make it too tight. This prevents the blood
and lymph carrying the poison from being spread rapidly through the
body. The tourniquet should be loosened for a few seconds every 20

_2. Make a short cut about one-fourth inch deep and one-fourth inch long
near each fang puncture with a sharp, sterile instrument. A knife or
razor blade sterilized in the flame of a match will do._

_3. Apply suction to the cuts. If no suction cup is available, the mouth
will do if it contains no open sores._

_4. If antivenin is available, administer it according to instructions,
but, if possible, this should be left to a physician. (Recent
experiments with antivenin indicate that, in some cases, its reaction
may be harmful and that it should be administered only under the care of
a physician.)_

_5. Get the patient to medical help as soon as possible, continuing the
first-aid treatment enroute. Keep the patient quiet and do not let him
get frightened or excited. Rather than require the patient to walk or
otherwise exercise, medical aid should be brought to him._

_6. If medical help is not available, and if Epsom salts can be
obtained, apply cloths soaked in a strong, hot solution of Epsom salts
over the cuts. The sucking, however, should be continued for at least
half an hour, preferably for an hour or more. Never give alcoholic
stimulants or use permanganate of potash. Snakebite kits give complete
instructions; follow them carefully._

    [Illustration: _Poison mechanism of the rattlesnake_
                                                   Redrawn from Dr. Fox]

  1. Poison gland.
  2. Hollow fang.
  3. Poison duct.
  4. Constrictor muscle.
  5. Eye.
  6. Nasal opening.
  7. Pouch enclosing fangs (not shown in drawing).
  8. Tongue.

Rattlesnake venom contains digestive enzymes which attack and destroy
tissue, and because of this and the possibility of bacterial infection
introduced by cutting the skin, another method of treatment—cryotherapy
(treatment with cold)—advocated by Dr. Herbert L. Stahnke, Poisonous
Animals Laboratory, Arizona State University, seems to be gaining more
and more support. This technique is designed to prevent and control the
chemical action of the venom and of bacteria, as well as minimizing
stress. This latter action is extremely important, since recent research
work has indicated that the physiological products produced by the body
under stress may more than double the toxic effects of the venom.
Cut-and-suction, or any similar treatment, tends to greatly increase

The following description of treatment is excerpted from “American
Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene,” Volume 6, Number 2, March,
1957, _The Treatment of Snake Bite_, by Herbert L. Stahnke, Fredrick M.
Allen, Robert V. Horan, and John H. Tenery:

_1. Place a ligature (tight tourniquet) at once between the site of the
bite and the body, but as near the point of entrance of the venom as

_2. Place a piece of ice on the site while preparing a suitable vessel
of crushed ice and water._

_3. Place the bitten hand or other member in the iced water well above
the point of ligation._

_4. After the envenomed member has been in the iced water for not less
than 5 minutes (N.B. research has shown that the danger generally
attributed to a ligature is not present when the member is
refrigerated), remove the ligature, but keep the member in the iced
water for at least 2 hours._

_5. Pack the envenomed member in finely crushed ice. This hypothermia
must continue for approximately 24 hours, and the patient must not be
permitted to chill, since this increases body stress._

_6. Change from hypothermia to cryotherapy. This is accomplished as
follows: after the first 24 hours following the bite, the patient should
be kept somewhat uncomfortably warm—that is, to the point of
perspiration—and encouraged to drink much water. This step is
exceedingly important. Unless the patient is kept uncomfortably warm the
proteolytic portion of the venom will not leave the site of the bite.
Consequently, when hypothermia is stopped, the concentration of this
part of the venom is greater and the tissue destruction will be
proportionately increased. Hypothermia should be avoided entirely if
this step is not meticulously observed._

    [Illustration: _Western black-headed snake_ (Tantilla eiseni).
                            (Courtesy San Diego Natural History Museum)]

    [Illustration: _Sonora lyre snake_ (Trimorphodon lambda).
                                        (Photo by Marvin H. Frost, Sr.)]

_7. The warm-up period after Cryotherapy is important. This must be done
gradually. Remove the member from the crushed ice and place it in ice
water (without ice). Allow the water to warm to room temperature._

Dr. Walter C. Alvarez in the _Santa Fe New Mexican_, 8-18-57: “Recently,
Dr. Wm. Deichmann, John E. Dees, M. L. Keplinger, John J. Farrell, and
W. E. MacDonald Jr. reported that hydrocortizone is a life-saving drug
when given to animals that have suffered poisoning from rattlesnake
venom. Instead of only the 17% of the untreated animals that survived,
75% of treated animals were saved.”

                           Back-fanged snakes

The southwestern desert regions are credited with harboring several
genera of snakes whose grooved back teeth indicate that they may have
poisonous properties. Of these, the Sonora lyre snake[11] (_Trimorphodon
lambda_) and the Mexican vine snake (_Oxybelis aeneus auratus_) are the
only species of sufficient size to be considered as even remotely
dangerous to mankind. Species of the genera _Tantilla_ (black-headed
snake), _Hypsiglena_, and _Sonora_ are too small and too difficult for
the amateur to identify to be considered in this publication.

                              Gila monster
                        (_Heloderma suspectum_)

More conflicting statements are made about the Gila (HEE-lah) monster
than about any other desert reptile. Some persons insist that it is not
poisonous, others are sure that even its breath is poisonous: that it
spits or blows its poison: that the animal has no anal opening, hence
undigested fecal matter remains in the body, decays, and is the basis of
its poison; and so on.

    [Illustration: _Gila monster_ (Heloderma suspectum).]

Here are the facts. The lizard is poisonous and its bite may be serious,
possibly fatal[13]. Its breath is not poisonous, and although the animal
seems to have a chronic case of halitosis, this has nothing to do with
its dangerous properties. It does not spit poison, but when angered it
frequently hisses, the outcoming blast of air sometimes carrying
droplets of saliva. It has a normal anal opening and voids fecal matter
in a perfectly normal manner. It is not a walking septic tank as many
persons believe.

Largest of the lizards native to the United States, and the only species
found in this country which is poisonous, the Gila monster rarely
attains a length of 2 feet. Average specimens are smaller. Its beady
skin, heavy body, short legs, and waddling gait set it apart from all
other lizards except its close relative, the also poisonous _Heloderma
horridum_ of Mexico. The Gila Monster is a spectacular black and corral
color, while the other is black and yellow.

Gila monsters are found in southern Arizona, their range extending
northwestward into the southern tip of Nevada and southwestern Utah.

    [Illustration: _Underside of Gila monster showing anal opening. This
    photograph is advanced as proof that the Gila monster is a perfectly
    normal creature in this respect._
        (Photo courtesy of Poisonous Animals Research Laboratory, Tempe,

_Food and habits_

Food consists chiefly of bird and reptile eggs, young rodents, and such
small or juvenile creatures as it is able to capture. It is especially
fond of hen eggs and may be kept in captivity for a long time without
other food. It is also fond of clear water, which seems strange because
of the scarcity of this liquid in the natural habitat of the lizard. If
provided with a basin of water it may lie partly submerged for hours.

Occasionally encountered ambling across stretches of open desert,
especially in the spring, the Gila monster is normally docile and bends
every effort toward escape among the stiff stems of some bush or beneath
the protecting spine-clad stems of a cactus plant. Sometimes an
individual with a “chip on its shoulder” may be met, or one in a normal
state of mind may be teased or prodded into anger, when it advances with
open mouth, sputtering and hissing.

When aroused, the Gila monster is remarkably agile, making quick turns
of its head to snap at nearby objects. If it secures a grip, it hangs on
with bulldog-like tenacity, grinding the object between its teeth.

Gila monsters reproduce by means of eggs which are about 2½ inches long
with a tough, parchment-like skin. From 5 to 13 eggs are deposited by
the female in a hole which she scoops in moist sand in a sunny location.
After laying the eggs, she covers them with sand, and leaves them for
the heat of the sun to hatch.

    [Illustration: _Poison mechanism of the Gila monster_
                                                   Redrawn from Dr. Fox]

  1. Poison gland.
  2. Grooved tooth.
  3. Poison duct.
  4. Opening, poison duct.
  5. Eye.
  6. Dissected lower jaw.

The Gila monster’s tail serves as a storehouse of nourishment, being
thick and heavy in times of plenty, and thin and rope-like in the early
spring when the reptile first appears after months of hibernation,
during which time it has lived on the reservoir of fat stored in its

_Poison of the Gila monster_

The poison of the Gila monster is produced by glands in the lower jaw.
To be most effective, the poison must be ground into the wound through
action of the grooved teeth, the process taking a little time. Bitten
persons who immediately have broken away sometimes show no effects of
the venom, therein lying the basis for the widespread statement that
Gila monsters are not poisonous.

Bitten persons who have been unable to release themselves show symptoms
of poisoning similar to persons suffering from rattlesnake bite,
although the poison is more neurotoxic in action. Breathing and heart
action are speeded up, followed by a gradual paralysis of the heart and
breathing muscles.

_Treatment is essentially the same as that for rattlesnake bite, which
is described earlier in this booklet. A physician should be summoned at
once. Stimulants are dangerous, and no one should be permitted to give
the patient any alcohol whatever._

Prevention is much simpler than cure, so Gila monsters should be allowed
to mind their own affairs unmolested. Normally they are not pugnacious,
and it would be very difficult for one to bite a human unless it were
being teased or handled or were stepped upon by a bare-footed child.
Please do not kill or capture Gila monsters. These interesting lizards
are a unique feature of native desert wildlife threatened with
extinction. Please leave them for other people to see and enjoy.
Furthermore, the Gila monster is protected by State law.

            Harmless Creatures Mistakenly Believed Poisonous

Practically everyone is aware of the widespread fear of snakes exhibited
by people of all races and in all walks of life. This fear although
largely emotional, is rationalized by many persons with the statement
“Well, it MIGHT be poisonous.” Other persons believe that there is some
rule of thumb, such as a flat or triangular-shaped head, by which all
poisonous snakes may be recognized. A great many persons kill all
snakes, just on general principles. Thus the innocent suffer with the
guilty, the harmless with the dangerous.

As scientists explore deeper and deeper into the intricacies of animal
behavior and obtain more and more knowledge of the ecological
relationships among animals and between animals and plants, it becomes
increasingly clear that these relationships present a delicate balance
or adjustment of nature. Epidemic diseases, disasters such as fires and
floods, and radical climatic changes may upset or alter these
relationships, sometimes with far-reaching effects.

But the greatest and most persistent disturber of the biological peace
is MAN. Almost every time man reduces or destroys one phase of nature,
he releases, in so doing, previously unrecognized forces which turn on
him in a manner that he least expects. Snakes, in general, live on small
rodents, thereby helping to maintain a balance whereby rodents are
unable to increase to such a point that they get out of nature’s
control. Kill all of the snakes in a given area, and some of the control
on rodent population is removed with a resulting increase in the
destruction of vegetation and consequent damage to farmers’ crops. So if
you must kill snakes, by all means limit your activities to those which
are known definitely to be poisonous.

One of the purposes of this booklet is to familiarize the desert dweller
or visitor with the snakes that ARE poisonous. All the rest are
harmless, in fact they are generally beneficial to mankind, even though
their heads may be triangular in shape. A given territory is capable of
supporting a rather definite number of snakes. Kill the harmless ones
and those that come in to take their place may be poisonous species.

In all parts of the country certain creatures, particularly reptiles,
are credited with supernatural powers for causing injury or aid to human
beings. Among aboriginal peoples, these superstitions are a part of
their religion and have a powerful effect upon their thinking. For
example, among the Hopi Indians of northern Arizona, snakes may be
messengers who, if properly indoctrinated, will convey to the rain gods
expressions of the people’s need for moisture in order that their crops
may mature.

Even among a people who for years have had the benefit of scientific
knowledge, superstitions persist. The hoopsnake and the milksnake offer
cases in point, and there will be readers of this booklet who will toss
it aside in anger because it states that both of these myths are without
substantiation in fact.

    [Illustration: _Two adult banded gecko lizards_]

These imaginary tales are passed from generation to generation and are
the strongest in regions where the percentage of uneducated people is
high. This situation exists in the South and Southwest. Many persons who
have been denied educational opportunities are extremely credulous and
have a long list of creatures to each of which they credit injurious or
helpful powers. A majority of these creatures are perfectly harmless,
but they are too numerous to be given space in this publication.
However, it seems only fair to mention a few of the commonest of these
persecuted species in the hope that they may be recognized as not only
harmless, but in many cases actually beneficial to man. Thus may their
unwarranted persecution be somewhat reduced.

                              Banded gecko
                        (_Coleonyx variegatus_)

Quite small, with velvety skin and delicate markings making it appear
fragile and semitransparent, this lizard has little to inspire fear.
Hiding away during daylight hours in dark and preferably moist retreats,
it comes forth at night in search of insects for food.

It is rarely seen unless disturbed in its hiding place, which may be in
the corner of a closet or cupboard beneath the sink. If captured, it
struggles to escape, emitting a faint, high-pitched squeak.

Although the banded gecko is sometimes mistaken for the young of a Gila
monster, in general the desert people accuse it of no definite crime,
stating merely “we have heard that it is very poisonous,” and in
consequence, kill it whenever they find it.

                           (_Eremobates_ sp.)

Probably because of its large and prominent jaws, the solpugid,
_Eremobates sp._, which is closely related to the spiders, is greatly

    [Illustration: _Solpugid or sun Spider_]

“Anything so ugly MUST be poisonous,” seems to be the principal basis
for its unhappy reputation.

It is often found inside buildings where it has gone in search of insect
prey, and Mexican families living in adobe houses with dirt floors are
reported to be terrorized by it. In Mexico and in many parts of the
Southwest it is known as _niña de la tierra_ or child-of-the-earth.

The range of the solpugid or sun spider is by no means limited to the
desert, but its reputation as a poisonous creature seems to be much
worse in the Southwest than elsewhere.

The solpugid not only is perfectly harmless to man but does not rely on
poison in capturing its prey, as it has no venom glands whatever.

                           Jerusalem cricket
                         (_Stenopelmatus_ sp.)

Whereas the solpugid is called child-of-the-earth in the southern
portions of the Southwest, in the northern part of this territory
another creature, the Jerusalem cricket, sand cricket, or _chacho_ is
reported as imbued with the same dangerous qualities evidently credited
to any creature to which this name has been applied.

    [Illustration: _Jerusalem cricket, sand cricket, or chacho_
                                        (Photo by Marvin H. Frost, Sr.)]

Although quite common, the Jerusalem cricket, _Stenopelmatus_ sp., is
shy and nocturnal in its habits. Its striking appearance is due to its
head which is round, bald, and with markings on top that form, with the
use of a little imagination, a simple, smiling face. It is this that
suggests to the Spanish-speaking people of the Southwest, who
occasionally dig it from its burrow, the name “_niña de la tierra_.” The
Navajo Indians call it _woh-seh-tsinni_, meaning Old Man Bald-head.

By the superstitious natives, this creature is believed to be highly
venomous and frequently the death of a horse or cow is blamed by the
owner on a “_chacho_” that has crawled into the hay.

Actually, the Jerusalem cricket is harmless and may be handled with
perfect impunity by anyone, although it may inflict a painful nip.

                           (_Trithyreus_ sp.)

Since people coming from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas bring the
majority of tales regarding the deadly characteristics of the little
vinegaroon or whip-tail scorpion, fear of it is apparently more
widespread over the cotton belt as a whole than within the desert
regions of the Southwest.

    [Illustration: _Vinegaroon_
                                        (Photo by Marvin H. Frost, Sr.)]

The name vinegaroon stems from the fact that when the little creature is
injured or smashed it gives off the odor of an acetate similar to that
of acetic acid, the principal ingredient of vinegar.

Equipped with a massive pair of pincers, the vinegaroon, like the
solpugid, gives an impression of fierceness which is probably the basis
for much of its reputation as a dangerous criminal. However, the pincers
are used in catching and holding prey and have no poison mechanism in

The hairlike posterior appendage, or tail, is without any protective or
offensive mechanism whatever, so that the creature is perfectly harmless
insofar as human beings are concerned.

In fact, like the solpugid and the banded gecko, its food habits cause
it to rid the world of a great many insects during the course of its
life and many of its victims are certain to be noxious to the interests
of mankind.

All of these creatures, then, are not only harmless, but are actually
beneficial to man, and they deserve to be freed from the persecution
resulting from ignorance and superstition, and to be permitted to live
in their normal relationship with other creatures.

                            REFERENCES CITED

[1]Kent, Melvin, and Stahnke, H. L., “Effect and Treatment of Arizona
    Scorpion Stings,” _Southwestern Medicine_, April, 1939, pp. 12-121,

[2]Bogen, Emil, “Poisonous Spider Bites,” _Journal of the American
    Medical Association_, Vol. 99, No. 24, December 10, 1932.

[3]Thorp, Raymond W., and Woodson, Weldon D., _Black Widow, America’s
    Most Poisonous Spider_, University of North Carolina Press, 1945.

[4]Baerg, W. J., “The Effects of the Bite of _Latrodectus mactans_,”
    _Journal of Parasitology_, Vol. IX, No. 3, March, 1933, pp. 161-169.

[5]Wehrle, L. P., “Observations on Three Species of _Triatoma_,”
    _Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society_, Vol. XXIV, No. 3,
    June, 1939, pp. 145-154.

[6]Matheson, Robert, _Medical Entomology_, Charles C. Thomas, Baltimore,
    Md., 1932.

[7]Jones, W. Ray, King County Medical Association, Seattle, Washington.

[8]Githens, T. H., “Snake Bite in the United States,” _Scientific
    Monthly_, August, 1935, pp. 163-167.

[9]Pope, Clifford H., _Snakes Alive and How They Live_, Viking Press,
    New York, 1942.

[10]Klauber, L. M., _Rattlesnakes, Their Habits, Life Histories, and
    Influence on Mankind_, 2 vol., University of California Press,
    Berkeley, 1956.

[11]Cowles, R. B., and Bogert, C. M., “Observation on the California
    Lyre Snake, _Trimorphoden vandenburghi_, Klauber. With notes on the
    Effectiveness of Its Venom,” _Copeia_, July 16, 1935.

[12]Stahnke, Herbert L., _Scorpions_, Arizona State University
    Bookstore, Tempe, Arizona, 1949.

[13]Loeb, Leo, and collaborators, _The Venom of Heloderma_, Carnegie
    Institution of Washington, 1913.


Comstock, John Henry: “_The Spider Book_,” Comstock Publishing Co. Inc.,
    Ithaca, N. Y., 1948.

Klauber Laurence M.: “_Rattlesnakes, Their Habits, Life Histories, and
    Influence on Mankind_,” 2 volumes, University of California Press,
    Berkeley, 1956.

Minton, Sherman A. Jr.: “_Snakebite_,” Scientific American, p. 114,
    January, 1957.

Shannon, Federick A.: “_Comments on the Treatment of Reptile Poisoning
    in the Southwest_,” reprinted from Southwestern Medicine, Volume
    XXXIV, No. 10, October, 1953.

Stahnke, Herbert L.: “_Scorpions_,” Poisonous Animals Research
    Laboratory, Tempe, Arizona, 1956.

Stahnke, Herbert L.: “_The Treatment of Venomous Bites and Stings_,”
    Poisonous Animals Research Laboratory, Tempe, Arizona, 1958.


  About deserts and poisons                                             1
  Acknowledgements                                                    vii
  Ants                                                              17-19
  _Aphonopelma_                                                        13
  _Apis mellifera_                                                     20
  Arizona coral snake                                               24-25
  Arizona mountain kingsnake                                        24-25
  Assassin bug                                                         14
  _Avicularia_                                                      13-14

  Back-fanged snakes                                                   30
  Banded gecko                                                         35
  Bees                                                      17, 19, 21-22
  Bellows bug                                                          14
  Black-headed snake                                                   30
  Black widow spider                                                 7-10
  _Bombidae_                                                           16
  Brown house spider                                                   10
  Brown recluse spider                                              10-12
  Brown spider                                                         10
  Bumblebee                                                        17, 19

  Centipede                                                           2-3
  _Centruroides_                                                      4-7
  Chacho                                                            36-37
  Child-of-the-Earth                                                36-37
  _Coleonyx variegatus_                                                35
  Conenose bug                                                      14-17
  Coral king snake                                                  24-25
  Coral snake                                                       24-25
  _Crotalus_                                                           25

  Desert, a definition                                                  1
  Desert hairy scorpion                                                 5
  Desert scientists                                                   vii
  Deserts of the United States (map)                                 viii
  _Dugesiella_                                                         13

  _Eremobates_                                                         36

  Fiddleback spider                                                    10
  _Formicidae_                                                         17

  Gecko                                                                35
  Giant desert centipede                                              2-3
  Gila monster                                                      31-33

  _Hadrurus hirsutus_                                                   4
  Harmless creatures                                                   34
  _Heloderma_                                                          31
  Honeybee                                                      17, 20-22
  Hornet                                                           17, 19
  Horned rattlesnake                                                26-27
  _Hymenoptera_                                                        17
  _Hypsiglena_                                                         30

  Insecticides                                                        vii

  Jerusalem cricket                                                 36-37

  Kissing bug                                                          14

  _Latrodectus mactans_                                                 7
  Lizard                                                        31-32, 35
  _Lycosa_                                                             13
  Lyre snake                                                           30

  Mexican vine snake                                                   30
  Mountain kingsnake                                                24-25
  _Micruroides euryxanthus_                                            24
  _Mutillidae_                                                         17

  _Niña de la tierra_                                               36-37

  _Oxybelis_                                                           30

  Pesticides                                                          vii
  Poison (definition)                                                   1
  Poisonous animals (definition)                                        1
  Poison lizard                                                     31-33
  Publications you may wish to read                                    39

  Rattlesnakes                                                      25-30
  _Reduviidae_                                                         14
  References cited                                                     39

  Sand cricket                                                      36-37
  _Scolopendra heros_                                                   3
  Scorpions                                                           4-7
  Sidewinder                                                        26-27
  Solpugid                                                             36
  _Sonora_                                                             30
  Sonoran Desert                                             Frontispiece
  _Sphecidae_                                                          17
  Spiders                                                            7-14
  _Stenopelmatus_                                                   36-37
  Striped-tail scorpion                                                 4
  Slender-tail scorpion                                                 4
  Squash bug                                                           14

  _Tantilla_                                                           30
  Tarantula                                                         13-14
  _Triatoma_                                                           14
  _Trimorphodon_                                                       30
  _Trithyreus_                                                         37

  _Vejovis spinigeris_                                                  4
  Velvet ant                                                        17-18
  _Vespidae_                                                           17
  Vinegaroon                                                        37-38

  Walpai tiger                                                         14
  Wasps                                                            17, 19
  Western diamondback rattlesnake                                      25
  Whip-tail scorpion                                                   37

  Yellowjackets                                                        19

 This booklet is published in cooperation with the National Park Service
                                  by the
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    [Illustration: SPMA and NPS logos]

                               Write For Catalog
                     Box 1562—Globe, Arizona 85501

12th Edition (Revised) 8-70—20M


On page 29, we regretfully acknowledge a typographical error. Step 3 of
the cryotherapy treatment should read:

  _3. Place the bitten hand or other member in the iced water well above
          the point of ligation._

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Tweaked the order of the Table of Contents to match the text.

—Incorporated the “erratum” (from an inserted slip) into the text. The
  erroneous Step 3 replicated Step 2.

—Inserted references to unreferenced endnotes at apparently-appropriate

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