There are at least five spiders and reptiles in eastern New Mexico that are poisonous to humans, according to a retired Eastern New Mexico University biology professor and wildlife author.
They include the brown recluse and black widow spiders and three types of rattlesnakes; the prairie, diamondback and Massasauga, Antonio “Tony” Gennaro said.
Additionally, individual reaction to native ant and bee stings can prove fatal, Gennaro said.
Health providers are prepared for bites from native species, keeping antivenins on hand, with the exception of the brown recluse, for which there is no antivenin, according to Pat Baker, the emergency room charge nurse at Plains Regional Medical Center.
A 22-year-old Clovis zookeeper was bitten by a foot-long Gila Monster last week while he was transferring the venomous lizard to another cage at Hillcrest Park Zoo.
Although the Gila Monster does not carry enough venom to kill a human, Cody Machen suffered a severe reaction to the bite and spent several days in an intensive care unit at Plains Regional Medical Center.
Machen said Tuesday he was better but “in a lot of pain.” He said doctors are working to find an alternative to surgery to alleviate swelling in his arm and leg.
Machen’s experience is unique because of his direct contact with an otherwise illusive lizard not indigenous to the area.
Sharita Haragan, the victim’s mother, said her son was sedated and give medication to stabilize his heart. According to uspharmacists.com, there is not antivenin for Gila Montser bites.
Baker, a 33-year veteran of nursing, said health care providers seek the advice of University of New Mexico and poison control experts in case’s such as Machen’s.
Rattlesnake bites occur frequently in the area, especially in the fall and warmer months, and black widow bites, though less common, have occurred, Baker said.
If the animal was killed or captured, patients should bring it with them to the hospital, or at least, get a good description, Baker said.
“(But) don’t bring a live snake in because I will not want to look at it,” Baker said chuckling.
Baker said rattlesnake serum costs around $1,000 a vial and treatment takes six to eight to 10 vials.
The key to avoiding bites in the wild is awareness, Gennaro said.
“I think vigilance is the number one thing we deal with in the wild,” he said. “Watch where you’re putting feet; if you know there are spiders, wear gloves.”
And if bitten, Gennaro said, do everything possible to stay calm, get a description of the animal and seek medical help.
The Gila is an endangered rock dwelling, burrowing lizard species, found in the southern desert regions of the state, Gennaro said. Secretive and rarely seen, the worst part of the bite is the fact the lizard locks its jaws and hangs on, often requiring removal by force.
Machen said he has no qualms about dealing with the reptile again in the future and can’t wait to get better and return to work.
Know your neighbors:
Brown recluse spider — A tannish-brown spider with spindly bristled legs which would fit on a dime. A distinct “violin” marking stretches from the head to the first section of the spider’s body.
The Brown Recluse’s venom attacks and damages tissue and can cause organ damage. Bites are often painless initially with symptoms of pain, itching and eventually tissue death developing over following days. Other symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, joint and muscle pain are more immediate.
There is no serum for this venom and treatment should be sought immediately.
Black widow spider — The adult female of the species is the only one with venom and is a shiny black spider with a pronounced, round abdomen. Black Widows are up to three inches in size, including their long, thin legs. Sometimes a red hourglass or other design marks the underside of the abdomen.
The bite itself may be painless but symptoms may set in quickly, including abdominal pains, sore muscles, especially on the feet, a dry mouth and paralyzed diaphragm, excessive sweating, and swollen eyelids.
There is an antivenin for the Black Widow bite and treatment should be sought immediately.
Prairie rattlesnake — Has the most extensive range of any rattlesnake in the U.S., preferring prairie environments.
Coloration varies with green, yellow, gray, or brown backgrounds and a blotched, distinct dorsal pattern which may be may be black, brown, or shades of gray. Each side of the face has two light colored stripes that run diagonally.
They reach an average of 62 inches length.
Prairie rattlesnake venom is considered highly toxic which affects the blood. Antivenin is commonly available at hospitals and should be sought immediately.
Diamondback rattlesnake — In the southern plains, Diamondbacks tend to be found in outlying rocky areas.
Color can range from red, pink, straw-yellow, beige, brownish and light gray. Boldly marked chevrons form an interlacing diamond-like pattern, often outlined in black and white, down the middle of the snake's back. The head is broad and two white diagonal lines are on either side of the eye.
They average 3 to 4 feet in length.
Diamondback rattlesnake venom is considered highly toxic which affects the blood. Antivenin is commonly available at hospitals and should be sought immediately.
Massasauga rattlesnake — This small rattlesnake, usually around 1 to 3 feet long, is not particularly common in the southern plains but can be encountered. Prefers sandy or rocky outcropping areas.
Probably the most dangerous of the three local venomous snakes.
The Massasauga has a row of black or dark brown mid-dorsal blotches on a lighter brown or gray background. All blotches and spots may be outlined in white. The blotches usually turn into rings on the tail. There is a rather broad dark stripe from the eye past the angle of the jaw. The belly is mostly black with irregular white or yellowish marks.
Massasauga rattlesnake venom is especially toxic because it not only affects the blood, it also has a neurological element. Antivenin is commonly available at hospitals and should be sought immediately.
Myth: Do not use the old “cut and suck” method for first-aid of a snakebite. “More people died from that than the rattle snake bites,” Gennaro said. Instead, apply a light tourniquet, try to remain calm to slow the movement of the toxin and seek medical treatment.
Myth: There are no coral snakes in this region. The coral, a relative of the Cobra, is a small brightly colored, banded snake with highly toxic venom.
Often high plains residents mistake the harmless milk and long-nosed snakes for corals, Genarro said.