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Heavy rainfall creates creature-human interaction

Flooding may move animals, including poisonous snakes, out of their usual habitats and closer to humans. Panic is not called for, however, say Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials.

Heavy rainfall, accompanied by flooding in the most hard-hit areas of the Southwest and at least a lot of standing water most everywhere, means farmers, ranchers and others who spend a lot of time outdoors are more apt than usual to encounter things that bite, claw, scratch and itch. Some can even be deadly.

Flooding, for instance will move animals, including poisonous snakes, out of their usual habitats and closer to humans. Panic is not called for, however, say Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials.

“It is not uncommon for wildlife encounters to increase after flood events,” says Andy Gluesenkamp, a herpetologist with TPWD. “People should be aware that snakes and other wildlife, including skunks and raccoons, may approach or enter yards and houses where they do not normally occur. Over time, displaced wildlife will return to their usual habitats.”

Heavy rainfall and flooding, along with wind damage, likely left debris in fields, pastures and even in backyards. Cleaning up after weather damage could bring humans and displaced animals in close proximity—with danger to each.

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Officials recommend using caution when removing debris as snakes and other animals often seek temporary shelter in these downfalls.

“A snake in the yard is not a cause for panic,” Gluesenkamp says. “They don’t want to be there, either, and if left alone will usually leave on their own. You’re more likely to come upon a skunk, a mound of fire ants or a wasp nest in a brushpile than a venomous snake. If you do have an encounter with a problem snake, seek help from local animal control or licensed snake removal experts.”

A smaller critter may cause more harm. It’s tick season and even though quite small they can cause severe problems, according to Justin Talley, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock entomologist. In Oklahoma, the American dog tick and lone star tick are most prevalent this time of year, Talley says.

“These ticks are in your yard, and if you spend time at any recreational area, especially in eastern or central Oklahoma, or if you share common indoor areas with your pets, there’s a good chance you’ll come in contact with these species,” Talley said.

The American dog tick prefers domestic animals including dogs and is a known source of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the most common tick-borne disease in Oklahoma.

The lone star tick may be even more troublesome. It is attracted to humans and different stages of the tick are active between March and September, said Bruce Noden, OSU medical and veterinary entomologist.

“Pay attention to lone star ticks as they can transmit a variety of tick-borne diseases including Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and a newly reported virus called Heartland virus,” Noden said.   

Tick-borne diseases can produce a wide range of symptoms, including some severe enough to require hospitalization.

Officials recommend precautions to cut exposure risk, says Gina Peek, OSU Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist. Taking away moisture and shade can be helpful to reduce tick habitat around homes. Keeping the lawn mowed, weeded and free of leaf and yard waste makes yards less attractive to ticks..

Dressing appropriately when outside is another easy precaution.  Experts recommend long pants, with les inside boots or with high socks. Sealing pants’ legs with wrapping tape, sticky side out, also prevents ticks from hitchhiking.  “Ticks stick to the tape,” Peek says. Wearing light colored clothing make it easier to detect ticks.

Insect repellent containing 20 percent DEET acts as a strong buffer against ticks. Permethrin, an insecticide, sprayed directly on your clothing, but not your skin, also helps discourage tick and is effective for up to three washings.

Check for Ticks

Check for ticks, frequently and examine family members head to toe. Check pets, too, especially before they come inside the house from outdoors.

Tick bites are not cause for panic, either, but should be attended to promptly. Remove the tick immediately with tweezers, tissues and a cloth or plastic bag turned inside out to grasp the tick and pull it slowly away from the skin without yanking or twisting. Then, freeze the tick in a plastic bag and record the date of the bite in case the person becomes sick. 

Officials recommend against removing ticks with are hands in case the tick is diseased. Avoid using matches or other hot objects to remove ticks. And avoid relying on folk methods such as suffocating ticks with Vaseline.

Mosquitoes also pose health concerns and with abundant rainfall, experts predict heavy mosquito infestations this year.

“Mosquito populations are booming throughout the state and will likely not go away anytime soon after all our rains and flooding,” said Dr. Mike Merchant, AgriLife Extension urban entomologist in Dallas. “Not all of the mosquitoes swarming us right now are likely to carry disease, but West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes are beginning to show up in traps.”

AgriLife Extension Service entomologists are offering tips on how Texans can help slow mosquito breeding in backyards and protect from being bitten.

Texas Department of State Health Services has already announced the first 2015 case of West Nile virus in the state, and Dallas County Health and Human Services has already issued a health advisory reporting its first positive mosquito pool of the year.

West Nile is not the only concern. Chikungunya, another mosquito-transmitted disease is on the radar of U.S. and state health officials as a growing concern. Merchant says the virus is regularly brought into the U.S. by travelers, but so far no human-to-mosquito-to-human cycle has developed in Texas.

“This could change, however, as it did last year in Florida where a handful of cases occurred among Floridians who had not traveled to the Caribbean,” Merchant said. “The principal mosquito vectors of chikungunya include the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, and its close relative, the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Chikungunya frequently comes with a very bad headache, joint pain, rash and fever.  There is no treatment or vaccine to protect from this disease.”

For more information about where mosquitoes can breed, and how to identify Aedes and other mosquitoes, Merchant suggested going to AgriLife Extension’s Mosquito Safari website,

Humans are not the only ones to suffer from mosquito-borne diseases, AgriLife Extension experts noted. Dogs and horses are susceptible to diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.

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