Employees at the White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) were made aware recently that the summer monsoon season and hot summer weather might bring more than nice vacation days, including some unwelcome visitors. Lt. Mike Daniels from the Las Cruces Fire Department, who also rescues reptiles, presented information about local wildlife hazards to employees. "During July and August, reptiles are very active," said Daniels.
Spiders, snakes, and other creatures were already present in the Chihuahuan Desert, before the White Sands Test Facility started breaking ground in 1962 near Las Cruces, NM. Today, employees of the facility occasionally encounter venomous creatures in and around the facility, sometimes even in their offices. Black widow spiders are venomous and their bite is excruciatingly painful, but brown recluse spider bite is necrotic and can pose a very serious health hazard to humans. Two WSTF employees are suspected to have been bitten by brown recluse spiders in the past two years. The presentation was brought to the site by the Keystone Committee, an employee-based safety, health, and environment awareness committee.
Lt. Daniels brought along several varieties of rattlesnakes and a hissing garden snake (who hated being handled) to show employees what they were up against. Daniels used a long snake handler's hook to enable safe handling of the snakes. Employees moaned, moved well away, or stared in fascination at the rattlesnakes.
[image-78] Almost all took a close look at the exposed hinged fangs when Daniels held the snake's mouth open, and made the fangs visible. "Rattlesnakes can strike in 1/100ths of a second," Lt. Daniels, a U.S. Navy veteran, told the audience while he casually held the rattlesnake's mouth open.
Some other useful information about snake awareness included: knowing what a rattlesnake looks like compared to other snakes, getting help as soon as possible after a bite, staying calm, not trying to remove venom, and not applying a tourniquet. Instead, Daniels says to circle the swelling with a pen and note the time near the bite area, and try to get help within an hour.
Cheerie R. Patneaude
NASA JSC White Sands Test Facility