Warmer weather is on the way and, for many Arizonans that means spending more time outdoors hiking, camping and fishing—but we’re not the only ones who will be taking advantage of that warm spring sun. Plenty of Arizona’s wildlife will be wandering around as well, and not all of them are fluffy and cute. Check out this list to know which creatures to keep an eye out for when you’re out and about this spring.
1. Africanized honey bee
Known colloquially as “killer bees,” these are bee hybrids that tend to show more aggressive defense tactics than traditional honeybees. If provoked, the will attack in greater numbers and for longer distances, which increases your chances of getting stung enough times to consult medical treatment. It is notoriously difficult to tell the difference between the two varieties (even entomologists have to perform genetic testing to confirm if a bee is Africanized or not) so exercise caution when you encounter bees.
2. Banded desert centipede
I almost stepped on one of these last summer when walking in the dark with the dimmest flashlight in the world. The banded desert centipede tends to dine more frequently on insects, lizards, and small rodents but they do give a
very painful sting followed by swelling when they defend themselves from a potential predator, i.e., you. While death by centipede is limited in the United States (there are only 5 known cases), serious symptoms from their venom can include swollen lymph nodes, nausea, heart palpitations, and local tissue damage.
3. Bark scorpion
They all look scary, but scorpions aren't exactly created equal. The bark scorpion, when compared to its relatives, looks scrawny, emaciated, and pale---but they deliver a meaner venom when they sting. In fact, they are the most venomous scorpion you can find in the country, and the best way to spot them is with a black light.
4. Black bear
The only surviving bear in Arizona, encountering one of these guys in the wild has generally been a rare occurrence, but human encroachment into bear territory makes contact a little more frequent. Despite their clumsy appearance, black bears are intelligent, impressively strong, can run up to 30 miles per hour and are skilled climbers, so encountering a defensive one could prove to be dangerous.
We want to keep the number of bear mailings low, so if you encounter a black bear, give it plenty of space and follow these tips from the
National Park Service
5. Black widow spider
Arguably the most venomous spider in North America, the female black widow is the one to avoid here. Thankfully they are easily spotted by the red hourglass (or, in some cases, a series of red dots or bars) on the belly and no one has died from bites in the past decade. However, bites can cause some serious symptoms such as vomiting, chest pain and breathing problems.
6. Brown recluse spider
While not exclusive to Arizona, the brown recluse is yet another venomous spider that delivers a nasty bite that will destroy tissue cells and, in extreme cases, can cause kidney failure and seizures. (Look up bite pictures if you want to feel particularly disgusted today.) Fortunately, bites are rare and death almost never happens, but we advise you to seek medical attention after a bite.
7. Giant desert centipede
The larger relative of the banded desert centipede, the giant desert version is just as creepy looking at up to 8 inches in length---and their stings are generally similar. I would advise avoiding them.
8. Gila monster
I hesitated adding this guy to the list, but I did anyway as I suppose it is possible to die from a gila monster bite. Evidently, this is one of the only venomous lizards in the world and it distributes that venom when chewing on its victim. While there are no known deaths from gila monsters, they can deliver a nasty bite and side effects such as breathing difficulties.
9. Kissing bug
I actually used to see these pretty often when I lived in Scottsdale, but never knew what they were until fairly recently. Otherwise known as assassin bugs and conenose bugs, these insects are attracted to lights and the carbon dioxide we exhale. While not venomous, some people have been known to experience anaphylactic shock, (a life-threatening allergic reaction), to bites.
Another reason to avoid these insects is because they can transmit Chagas disease when a parasite that lives in their digestive system enters the bloodstream through the bite. If ignored, this disease can cause heart failure.
10. Mohave rattlesnake
Aren't we lucky to be living in a time when rattlesnake fatalities are rare? The Mohave rattlesnake, which resides mainly in southern Arizona, has a highly potent venom that can cause vision problems, difficulty swallowing and breathing issues, eventually leading to death if left untreated.
Since Arizona is home to 13 different varieties of rattlesnakes, educate yourself about them and how to handle encounters by
clicking this link from Arizona Game and Fish
11. Mountain lion
I bet your average, tubby house cat wishes it was a mountain lion. Measuring up to nine feet long and known for its silent stalking and excellent jumping abilities, these guys can take down huge prey such as elk by attacking from behind. While attacks are rare, attacking a human wouldn't take much effort on part of the mountain lion, so
exercise caution when in their territory
12. Tarantula hawk
Getting bitten by a fire ant is a pretty painful experience and is the lowest level of the Schmidt sting pain rating index. Tarantula hawks share the top of that list (with the aptly named bullet ant), so here's hoping you never have to experience a sting from this wasp variety. While the pain typically only lasts around three minutes, it will be the worst three minutes of your life up to that point; evidently, the pain is so severe during those moments that the only thing you can do is scream in pain.
The only thing that could make the ordeal worse is suffering an allergic reaction to the sting, which would require immediate medical attention in order to avoid potential death.
13. Western diamondback rattlesnake
The last creature on our list is also responsible for the second greatest number of snakebite fatalities in the United States (just behind the Eastern diamondback). They are also quite aggressive when provoked and can cause permanent tissue loss when attempting to heal from a bite, so you will want to avoid them at all costs.
Have you encountered any of these animals? Let us know which one(s) you hope to never encounter.