Snakes and Scorpions on the River

What to worry about: Snakes and Scorpions.  bark scorpion

As far as I can tell, there is no worry about snakes in the Grand Canyon.  If you happen to see a rattlesnake, consider yourself very lucky and observe it without disturbing it. If you see a long, skinny, striped snake moving around, again - you are lucky and observe it without disturbing it, but take some time to check it out and realize that it is not a rattlesnake.

People have had trouble with scorpions though and it is worth following some common-sense precautions. The Bark Scorpion (small - 1-3 inches long) is the most venomous (and the only one that I have seen).

Short version: Scorpions are nocturnal and can hide out in places where you might disturb them. Shake out your shoes in the morning, use a groundcloth if sleeping without a tent (and don't put your sleeping bag in vegetation), shake out your life jacket before putting it on after you've left it sitting over an old dead branch. If you are stung, be prepared for up to 24 hours of pain.  If you are allergic to bee stings, you should bring your EPI pen with you and consider anaphylactic shock.

Long version:

Story - Quite a few years ago, on my second private trip down the canyon, we were travelling late one day and camped at dusk at a marginal site.  Groundcloths and sleeping bags were put out wherever space could be found.  A party member woke up at 4 with a sharp sting on her hand. Her groundcloth was in a narrow path, touching vegetation on both sides.  A scorpion had gotten into her sleeping fleece and had stung her.  Upon reporting to our trip leader, he had no particular advice to suggest. Our friend (a biologist) decided to flush the toxins out of her system by dilution.  She drank as much water as she could and cycled it through her system.  Drink and pee, drink and pee, drink and pee - for 24 hours.  She described the pain as the 'sting of hanging on to the terminals of a car battery'. She said that it gradually worked its way up her arm over the course of hours, then eventually worked its way back down and disappeared - many hours later.

Later, she talked with Mexican immigrant friends; what they did when stung by a scorpion was to *immediately* stub out a cigarette directly on the sting site, causing a minor burn over the area.  The science behind this would be that the heat denatures the venom (a complex protein) and renders it 'harmless'.  (Denaturing a protein entails breaking hydrogen bonds and altering its structure so that it interacts with other compounds in a greatly differed manner. Think hard-boiled eggs...)

Suggestions -

Prevention - Shake out your shoes in the morning, use a groundcloth if sleeping without a tent (and don't put your sleeping bag in vegetation), shake out your life jacket before putting it on after you've left it sitting over an old dead branch. Some people carry an UV light (you can buy simple, small versions) to look for scorpions at night. I've not had much luck with this and do not bother with it.

Treatment -  None of us smoke (stubbing out cigarettes) but we like the idea of denaturing proteins.  If you are organized, it would be appropriate to carry wooden matches with you.  If you get stung, *immediately* strike a match, blow it out, press the hot tip on the sting site for your modest burn.  We have not done a field test of this method.  We will be bringing a 'snakebite kit' which includes a suction cup. It might be worth trying to suck the venom out of the wound site immediately after the sting.  I would *not* recommend doing any cutting to increase blood flow!  I have never seen the suction cups in use. Others recommend cold - as in, immediately put the affected part into river water. It is possible that Benedryl (antihystamine) might alleviate symptoms to some extent.  Ataminophen or ibuprofen may help for local pain and swelling. But plan on up to 24 hours of noticeable pain...  And if you are allergic to bee stings, bring your EPI pen.

More authoritative sources:
http://www.hitthetrail.com/scorpions/
http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/hiking-faq.htm#CP_JUMP_1900775 (scroll down to the question about snakes and scorpions)
http://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/nature/bark-scorpion.htm 

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