ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When it comes to natural disasters, New Mexicans usually have it pretty easy.
Aside from devastating wildfires, we don’t lose much sleep worrying about tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes.
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things out there that can kill us.
Lurking in dark spaces, under rocks, in trees and the brush are potentially lethal creatures.
At the top of this list is the rattlesnake, which can be found in every part of the state in multiple environments, including backyards, hiking and biking trails, and the mesa. New Mexico Poison Center Director and professor Dr. Susan Smolinske said New Mexico has more rattlesnakes per person than any other state, although the snake is in general not aggressive. She said most rattlesnake bite calls come in to the center when the weather starts to get warmer. On average, she said the center records 60 rattlesnake treatments a year.
“Most bites are accidental, sometimes from people out hiking or gardening, or an occupational related bite,” she said. “But some are from trying to handle the snake.”
The snakes like to hang out in tall grass, brush rocks, and holes. She said the key is to be aware of the surroundings and use a walking stick to scare away snakes.
“You can’t really outrun a snake,” she said. “They can leap one and a half times their body length.”
While many snakes, such as the rattler, have fangs that inject their victims with venom, Smolinske said the coral snake has teeth.
“They tend to hang on to you,” she said. “They sort of chew on you.”
She said anyone bitten by either snake should ignore what they have seen in movies about dealing with snake bites and immediately go to a hospital for the antivenin treatment.
Don’t try to suck out the venom or use a tourniquet to restrict blood flow, she said, because it will isolate the venom and create severe tissue damage. The same can be said for applying cold. She said heat will accelerate the spread of the venom.
People should never attempt to handle a snake, even a dead one, because it is still capable of biting shortly after death.
One of the most common sights in New Mexico is the black widow and its bite packs a powerful punch. Smolinske said the bites are not deadly for adults but some people have wished for death after being bitten.
“The pain is so awful, medication is needed for it,” she said. “When I’m at bedside I’ve had people say ‘I wish I was dead.’ The pain radiates to the large muscles of your body and it’s just continuous.”
The bites, according to the Poison Center website, can be deadly for small children. She said the black widows like to hide in cinder blocks, under chairs and wood piles. Fall is one of the most likely times to encounter them indoors.
Homeowners should shake shoes before wearing them and check sheets before getting into bed. Outside, wearing work gloves is a good idea.
Also feared in New Mexico are the brown spiders, cousin to the brown recluse, which most people recognize by the violin marking on its body. New Mexico has three species: the blanda, desert and Apache, and all are venomous.
They live mostly outdoors under logs, rocks, dead cacti and burrows and the bites can kill small children.
“It’s not deadly but it is excruciatingly painful,” she said. “Basically they grab you with their pinchers and spin around to sting you.”
They are mostly found in the southern part of the state. The scorpion is an inch to an inch and a half and likes damp places and can climb up almost any surface except glass and plastic.
In addition to small deadly critters, the state has large predators one might encounter while enjoying the great outdoors. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has released a brochure to make people aware of the possibility of encountering these large animals that include the black bear, cougar and bobcat.
Although rare, attacks by these animals can occur in New Mexico. In June 2016, a woman running a race in Valles Caldera was attacked by a black bear but survived by playing dead. The runner inadvertently startled a cub and the mother attacked, mauling her.
Bears are found mostly in the forested areas of the state but do sometimes come down into inhabited areas, most likely looking for food or water.
The cougar, also known as a mountain lion, can be found in many different habitats where prey is available in the forest, mountains and meadows.
Bobcats are found in every New Mexico county including sandy deserts.
The department suggests remaining calm if the predator has not spotted you and slowly backing away. If attacked the brochure suggests: “Fight aggressively and use any weapon available such as rocks and sticks, a backpack, hat or jacket or your bare hands if necessary.”