Can you name the ant that produces the most toxic venom known? On the pain scale of 0 to 4, where does the sting of the female tarantula hawk fall? How many dogs die each year from ingesting or mouthing Sonoran Desert toads, according to the Arizona Drug and Poison Information Center?
“Tread Lightly: Venomous and Poisonous Animals of the Southwest,” published by Rio Nuevo Publishers in Tucson, has the answers. Written by an emergency room physician and a registered nurse, Rich and Margie Wagner, this authoritative and informative book covers almost every wild critter in Arizona that bites, stings or secretes a toxic substance.
The nearly 100-page book boasts 55 color photos, illustrating venomous creatures and look-alike species that only appear as if they might do harm. Some of the more threatening ones will surprise you. Although we all know about Gila monsters and rattlesnakes, not many Arizonans are conversant with the dangers of cone-nose bugs and buckmoth caterpillars.
Unlike some other guides, this one gives first-responder advice. It provides phone numbers and Web sites of local poison control centers, and describes the recommended first aid or antidote for each animal discussed. The authors also explain the difference between venomous animals (such as brown spiders) and passively poisonous ones (such as toads).
The presentations describe each species’ range and habitat, diet, life span, physical characteristics, behavior and reproductive potential, as well as the effects of its venom. Rattlesnakes get the most ink, as well they should. Prevention of bites is stressed, and there is a good discussion on how one gets struck, along with a summary of rattlesnake biology and behavior. The reader learns which species and strikes are most dangerous. Good advice is provided regarding first aid treatments not to be given — crucial information if one is bitten while in a remote area.
Containing the most up-to-date information on everything from Africanized honeybees to the use of cell phones, “Tread Lightly” is the latest word on an ever-interesting subject. Every family in the Southwest should own a copy.
–David E. Brown
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