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Poison Ivy

Around here, we don't like to think of the world as a big, scary place. In fact, in Ohio, and this part of the country, there really aren't many seriously dangerous animals. That isn't true all over the world. But, even if you do share your neighborhood with potentially dangerous things, knowing the dangers, and how to avoid them or what to do when a problem occurs, can make you feel much more secure when you investigate your world.

Poison Ivy

Around here, one of the most dangerous things you might encounter is… get ready for it… Poison Ivy (Toxicodendrans radicans or Rhus radicans)! Our response to the oils of this plant is an allergic reaction. Some people have a more severe reaction to it than others. In order to be affected at all, you must come in contact with the oils on the plant. Some highly allergic people can get a reaction if there is a lot of Poison Ivy around and there is a strong wind, but usually it requires direct contact.

You can't get a reaction by touching someone who has a rash from Poison Ivy, unless they still have the plan oil on them – if they have showered or if it's a few days after they contacted it, you're safe to give them a supportive hug. Also, it doesn't 'spread' when you scratch it (unless you are spreading the plant's oil around still), but scratching it can make the rash more irritated, bleed or get infected. But if you have a dog and it runs through some Poison Ivy, you can get it from him (or her). If you walk through some Poison Ivy with your shoes on, and then tie your shoelaces, you could get it that way, too.

In many places in Ohio, Poison Ivy is very, very common. It is usually found near the edges of woods, in areas that are moist but get sunlight. If you know what it looks like, it is easier to avoid.

As its name suggests, Poison Ivy is a vine. The shiny, pointed leaves are always found in groups of three. "Groups of three – let me be!" Sometimes, young leaves are kind of reddish, but not always. The stem of the vine is covered with red fuzz. Sometimes the vine grows up the side of a tree and looks like a thick, red caterpillar. Even in the Winter, this vine can give you a rash!





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While it is a little dangerous, Poison Ivy isn't super dangerous (to most people). You get an uncomfortable rash and put some stuff on it, and it goes away in a few days. If you think you have encountered Poison Ivy while out playing or exploring, try to wash the areas you think touched it, within an hour or so, with warm, soapy water. Often, that will wash off the oil and keep you from having a reaction.

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Perhaps the most common fear people have regarding BUGS is Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders!

Usually, this is only a matter of not understanding how spiders eat, and what is really important to them. Spiders do not eat people. And it is not always easy to get a spider to bite in defense. Here's why:
Spiders don't chew their food. They bite it, but they cannot chew it.

Imagine if you could bite but not chew your food. You couldn't swallow most of it. Unless you got a bunch of spit in your mouth and mooshed the food around with it. Eventually, it would dissolve enough for you to swallow. This is because your spit isn't just water – it has a bunch of chemicals in it called, enzymes. Enzymes help you digest, or break down, your food.

Spider spit has enzymes in it, too. And this is very important to them since they can't chew. They also cannot put anything in their mouth. So instead they put their fangs into their food, say, a cricket, and spit their spit enzymes through their fangs into the cricket. The enzymes turn the cricket into mush and the spider slurps the mush up. (This is why Charlotte hangs her food in her web for a while before she eats it!)

Spiders don't waste their spit!

They need it to eat. So you have to try kind of hard to get most spiders to bite you. And in Ohio, most spider bites aren't really serious at all.

Everyone talks about the Brown Recluse (Loxosceles reclusa). It has a very, very nasty bite. Its venom is necrotic which means it kills skin cells. Without treatment it can be very, very dangerous. However, Brown Recluse spiders are not very common at all. And they come by their names honestly, they are reclusive. Most people who get bitten by one don't see it – or the spider would see them, too and run away! They look a lot like a brown spider. They are not very easy to recognize quickly in the field. (Good thing they hide!) Brown Recluse bites are very, very rare. They get blamed for a lot of bad, infected bites by other things. If you are out exploring, and want to worry about Brown Recluse bites, you might as well worry about lightning strikes and huge branches falling on your head, too.

The other scary spiders you always hear about are Black Widows (Latrodectus mactans). Again, in Ohio, these spiders are rare. They are also very obvious looking. They usually make big, community webs along fence rows or under porches. They are very common in the southern U.S., and yet very few people get bitten by them. They are completely not aggressive and will usually run up into their webs when they see a big animal like us coming!

Their bite isn't the same, or as dangerous as a Brown Recluse. It makes you sick and nauseous, and some people – especially elderly people or infants – can get in some trouble from the bite. Most healthy people are sick and achy for a week or two and then move on with their happy lives!

Most spiders in Ohio are safe and cool to watch, and some are even cute!

Next time you see a Jumping Spider (Salticidae) or a beautiful Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia), slow down and watch. These guys are both cool and beautiful!


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