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Summer Safety: Plants, Insects and Animals to Avoid
By: Denise Lineberry

Editor's Note: Click on the highlighted words within the article to learn more about a specific plant, insect or animal.

When Dawn Currier was young her mom used to tell her: "Leaves of three, let them be." It was one of many lessons that would follow about plant, insect and animal safety in the summer months.

Summer Safety presentation.
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Dawn Currier and Chris Blake gave a presentation on outdoor summer safety, which provided information on poisonous plants, and animals and insects to avoid. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Currier, a wildlife biologist for the city of Hampton who is stationed at Sandy Bottom Nature Park, along with Chris Blake, a park ranger, visited NASA Langley's Pearl Young Theater on Wednesday to share information about dangers that lurk in our surroundings.

About 15 employees from Langley's grounds maintenance group and more than 30 students in grades K-5 attending NASA Langley's Camp Lunar were there to listen and learn, along with several Langley employees.

Many animals and insects can pose threats within NASA Langley's 807 acres of land. Though, most employees spend their workdays within the more than 40 major research facilities and approximately 180 shops, administrative and support facilities.

Meanwhile, the grounds crew remains outdoors. Almost all of them have been bitten, stung or had a plant reaction at some point while working at at the center.

According to Vicki O'Neill of Langley's health clinic, they treat many insect stings and bites during the summer -- but not just for the grounds workers. Certain plants, insects and animals can pose threats to anyone. Effects can differ with each person, having rare or extreme symptoms or in some cases, none.

With a 'better safe than sorry' mindset, Currier and Blake shared what to lookout for, possibilities to protect yourself and if affected, what treatment should be given.

According to Currier, there are many poisonous plants common to this area including poison ivy, sumac and oak, all of which are the most common causes of allergic reactions in the U.S. Each year, 10 to 50 million Americans develop an allergic rash after plant contact. Everyone is born with sensitivity to poison ivy and contact results in a rash. In mild cases, the affected area should be washed with cold water. Clothes should also be washed. Never touch your eyes or face. Itching symptoms can be relieved with an over-the-counter preparation. A medical professional should treat severe reactions.

The best-case scenario is avoiding them. This is where the "leaves (or leaflets) of three, let them be" theory should be used. Also, try to keep yourself covered or use barrier creams on uncovered areas.

According to Currier, many dangerous plants in Southeast Virginia are "pretty plants in disguise." Pokeweed, buttercups, Jack-in-the-pulpit and ragweed should all be avoided. Also, all of the mentioned plants should never be burned. "Ingesting the fumes can be dangerous," Currier said.

Blake said that black widow and brown recluse spiders should also be avoided. A black widows' web can identified by its “netty” appearance. The brown recluse's web is made of loose, irregular strands. A medical professional should treat bites from either the black widow or the brown recluse immediately.


NASA Langley's Occupational Health Clinic:

Sandy Bottom Nature Park:

Hampton (Va.) Animal Control:

Virginia Department of Health:

Ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes and cow killers are common in wooded areas and open fields with tall grass. Ticks may transmit Lyme disease, which can be identified by flu-like symptoms and a bullseye rash. According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, about 20,000 Americans are reported with Lyme disease every year.

Blake suggested that everyone should do a "tick check" after returning from the outdoors and if one is found, it should be removed immediately using tweezers. He also suggested using duct tape at the bottom of pants legs, wearing light clothing so the insect can be easily seen. Also, remove stale water.

Dangerous snakes to look out for include the canebrake rattlesnake and the Eastern cottonmouth or water moccasin, which are likely to be found in Hampton or Poquoson.

According to Blake, not all bites will transmit venom, some are "dry" bites. Swelling, discoloration, difficulty breathing and an irregular heartbeat are some known symptoms of poisonous snakebites.

Christopher Chadock, a grounds maintenance worker, was bitten by a black rat snake near Langley's softball field. Though it is Virginia's largest snake, growing up to eight feet long, it is not poisonous.

"If bitten, remain calm and try to immobilize the bite area," Blake said.

Sentara Careplex in Hampton is the closest hospital to Langley with antivenin, a biological product used in the treatment of venomous bites or stings.

Raccoons, foxes, bats and coyotes are local animals known to carry rabies, a deadly viral infection that spreads among mammals. Wash with soap and water, do not pick up the animal and call animal control.

If you witness an animal behaving unusual, call animal control.

"You should enjoy the outdoors, but know what to avoid and what to do about it," Currier said.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman