Snake Bites and Scorpion Stings

Prevention of bites and stings is fairly straightforward -- know where you're sticking your hand or foot, and what might be hiding in a hole or sunning itself on a ledge.

A common scene in western movies is when a pioneer gets bit by a rattle snake or stung by a scorpion — venomous desert dwellers that don’t like surprises. The hero in the movie then whips out a knife, cuts at the bite/sting and starts sucking the venom out.

Bad idea, said Tod Schimelpfenig of the Wilderness Medicine Institute.

“People want to┬ádo┬ásomething,” he said, “like the John Wayne character in ‘True Grit.’ It isn’t necessary to cut and suck the venom out.”

For one thing, venom is not a given with rattlesnakes, he said. A third to half of the time, there’s no injection of venom. And even if there was an injection, Schimelpfenig said, sucking at the bite won’t remove the venom.

The best treatment is to stay calm and get to a hospital for anti-venom — an antidote to snake venom, he said.

Schimelpfenig said small children should always be taken to the ER for anti-venom.

Prevention of bites and stings is fairly straightforward — know where you’re sticking your hand or foot, and what might be hiding in a hole or sunning itself on a ledge. Snakes and scorpions are smart enough to know you’re too big to eat, but they will defend themselves.


Desert Scorpion
Desert Scorpion

There are nine types of scorpions found in Utah and 55 in Arizona, but only one type of scorpion in both states can cause severe medical problems- the Arizona bark scorpion. Usually about 1-1.5 inches long, bark scorpions are light brown. Like all scorpions, the bark scorpions hide during the day and feed at night. Often, they hide under wood, debris, on branches, under rocks and really anywhere that is damp and dark, including near swimming pools.

In Arizona, the bark scorpion is one of the most common types found. However, in Utah, bark scorpions are mostly concentrated in the southeastern part of the state in and around Kane County, according to Wild Aware Utah. If you bring a black-light flashlight with you, you can spot bark scorpions with your light since they glow under black light.

How To Avoid Scorpions

Since scorpions like dark, damp places, be careful if you decide to pick up debris, old wood, rocks, firewood and branches. In addition, always shut your tent, so you don’t end up with unwelcome creatures. And never leave your shoes unattended at a campsite. In a Banner Poison and Drug Information Center study, 60 percent of people stung by scorpions were stung on their hands or feet. Check your shoes before putting them on, even if they have been sitting in your tent or car. Another 30 percent of people in the study were stung in their bedrooms, so be sure to check your sleeping bag or sheets in your hotel room before you nestle in for the night.

What to Do if You Are Stung by a Scorpion

If you or someone you are with are stung by a scorpion, here are a few things you should do as recommended by Wilderness USA.

  1. Keep the victim calm. The calmer you and the victim are, the slower the venom will spread through the body.
  2. Clean the area with soap and water. An antiseptic is preferred if you have it.
  3. Use a cold or cool compress on the affected area.
  4. Call the Poison Center at 800-222-1222 to see if you need to seek immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of a Scorpion Sting

If you have been stung by an Arizona bark scorpion, you may experience a burning station that is painful to touch, difficulty swallowing, excessive drooling, muscle twitching, slurred speech and possible respiratory distress. If you experience any of these symptoms, get to a medical facility immediately. Most carry the anti-venom needed for those stung by a bark scorpion.

Children tend to have a more severe reaction than adults, so if you suspect your child has been stung, contact the local Poison Center immediately at 800-222-1222 . Mild symptoms can include intense pain or pain where the child was stung, numbness and tingling in the area and slight swelling. More serious symptoms include drooling, vomiting, high or low blood pressure, restlessness, inconsolable crying and excitability, according to the Mayo Clinic.