25 May 2009

Creepy Crawlies...

And she said:

"I don't like spiders and snakes
And that ain't what it takes to love me,

You fool, you fooooooooollll.

I don't like spiders and
And that ain't what it takes to love me,

Like I wanna be loved by yooooooouuuu."

(From the song, "Spiders and Snakes" by Jim Stafford 1974)

In the last two posts I talked about bugs and since I am on a roll I thought that I would continue with things that scare us. My first experience with deadly things was when I first came to Mexico and lived in the state of Nuevo León near Monterrey. The shop where I worked was alive with rattlesnakes and they were always underfoot. You had to be careful where you walked. In a photo below you can see a six footer being skinned out after it was killed just outside my office door. I almost stepped on it. We also had coral snakes which were not quite so common but just as deadly. You can tell in the photo that it was a coral snake (without a head) and not a non-poisonous scarlet king snake because the red bands touched the yellow bands. We learned to tell them apart in the Boy Scouts with a little poem:

"Red to yellow kill a fellow. Red to black venom lack."

In the last nine years that I have been living in Irapuato in Central Mexico I have not see a snake of any kind. Hey that's okay with me!

Another "animalito" (little creature) that I learned to fear is the centipede that they call "Ciempiés" in Mexico which means "hundred feet". No, I didn't spell "ciempiés" wrong either. Normally a hundred feet would be "cien piés" with an "n" in "cien" and not an "m" but that is not how they spell "ciempiés" and who am I (or you) to argue? The first time I saw one, I grabbed my camera to take a photo but I only got one fuzzy shot before I was brushed aside by a group of men who started shouting and stomping on the little beastie with their heavy boots. Every man in the shop had to come over and stomp on the ciempiés or at least stomp on the wet spot that used to be the ciempiés. They were all agitated and visibly upset. I did not choose that opportunity to ask questions but later on I found out why there was so much commotion. All of these men had been raised in houses made of adobe. The adobe houses have beams called "vigas" that go across the ceiling spaced about two feet apart. On top of these vigas are placed bundles of "carrizo" which is a tall weed that resembles bamboo (slightly) and grows in drainage ditches. On top of the carrizo they place a sand and lime mixture that in the old days was mixed with the juice of the prickly pear cactus and this formed a cement with which they could seal the roof. The ciempiés liked to hide up in the carrizo in the rafters and sometimes at night they would fall on the people sleeping below. If they were startled they would dig their claws into the flesh of the victim and would not let go. This terrified the victims, especially children, and the victim usually ended up with a high fever from an infection caused by the claws. Sometimes people even died from this infection. In short, the ciempiés was a small child's biggest nightmare and when the children they grew up they never forgot it.

Now it is time to talks about the scorpion which in this part of Mexico we call "alacrán" which comes from the Arab word "al-ágrab". In some parts of Mexico they also use the Spanish word "escorpión". There are many different varieties of scorpions but several species in the genus Centruroides give the most trouble in the area of the country where I live. They all are about two to three inches long and they all look somewhat alike. There are two characteristics that help to identify scorpions that are particularly dangerous. They will have long, thin, delicate claws and in addition to their main stinger they will have a small auxiliary barb on the end of their tails. Their main food is cockroaches and their larvae and for this reason they are found inside houses as well as outdoors. They like places that are dark and humid. There are several things that you can do about scorpions. First, you can check to see if you have them. The best way to do this is with an ultraviolet blacklight. With this light they will show up very well in the dark. You can buy a blacklight flashlight for about twenty bucks. Another thing that you can do is keep your house free from roaches and other vermin. One of the best ways to do this is to clean the floors frequently and use chlorine bleach along with your regular soap in the wash water. This will kill all the little microscopic bugs that roaches feed on. No food chain...no roaches, no roaches...no scorpions. It is as simple as that. If you have a lot of roaches to deal with sprinkle borax powder where they walk. Borax is harmless to humans (I hope) and death on roaches. They lick it off of their feet. Most of those roach powders that people try to sell you are nothing more than borax powder with a secret agent (food coloring) added. It is up to you to find out whether the blue one or the pink one works better (just kidding).

There are also several things that you can do outside the house. You can eliminate places for scorpions to hide. You can also dust the area around your shrubs with diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a very fine chalky powder that is made up of the skeletons of tiny, tiny organisms called diatoms. People use this powder in their swimming pool filters in conjunction with a fine mesh filter because the diatoms lock together in an amazing filtering job. Just ask your pool boy. With scorpions, the diatomaceous earth gets into their tracheal breathing tubes and dries them out. It is actually called a mechanical insecticide and the bonus is that cockroaches don't like it either. There is one other scorpion control method that I must tell you about. I lived for six years in desert east of Phoenix near the Superstition Mountains back in the early 70's before there were so many people. We had loads and loads of scorpions. Little by little I noticed that wherever people had pet cats there were no scorpions. So, I got a cat too and my scorpions gradually disappeared. I never saw the cat with a scorpion either. I have a theory that scorpions are allergic to cat dander just like some people are. If you have a scorpion problem and you aren't allergic to cats, a cat is definitely worth a try. Just don't tell your dog that I gave you the idea.

Now we are down to the nitty gritty...spiders. The biggest problem is with spiders of the genus Loxosceles, the Violin Spider or "Araña Violinista" (also called Recluse Spider) and the genus Latrodectus, the Black Widow Spider, or Araña Viuda Negra". Of the two I think that the Violin Spider is the most dangerous but neither of them are aggressive if left alone. Look for the "violin" on the back of the Violin Spider and the red "hourglass" on the belly for the Black Widow to identify them. The best way to avoid them is the same methods used for scorpions. Keep a clean, tight house, and never put your hands or fingers where you can't see what's there first. Mexico does not have any dangers that are worse than other places. They are just different. Learn a little bit about them and the precautions you can take and you will do just fine. Oh, yes, and when you go to Sams don't forget to pick up a three can pack of "Raid Max"... just in case.


Leslie Limon said...

In Jalisco, the black widow spider is known as a "capulina". And I think you're right about the cat/alacran thing. I haven't seen a live alacran since we've had a cat. I have found dead ones, though.

glorv1 said...

Oh my word, I am going to have nightmares tonight. I have snakes too. They are so creepy crawly and ayeeeeee, I can feel my back cringing at the thought. Have a great week Bob.

Constantino said...

Now I will have to buy a case of Oxo!
You don't happen own stock in the company do you, Bob?

Jonna said...

I think the cats do kill the scorpions. They are faster than the scorpion and play with it until it is exhausted, then kill it. They probably eat it too but I don't want to think about that.

Dogs on the other hand, are not faster than a scorpion. Our dog Hombre stuck his nose on one in Ajijic one time. I'm sure it hurt, he yelped and yelped, but we gave him a benadryl and he went to sleep and was fine when he woke up. He learned nothing, he still sticks his nose where he can't see.

Jonna said...

Oh, and we have a lot of the ciempiés here in Mérida. I just thought it was pronounced that way because the Yucatec accent always changes N to M at the end of a word. They give me the creeps, they run really fast. My cat chases them but so far they've gotten to a hole in the wall before she can get them. I hope they won't hurt her if she does get one.

Steve Cotton said...

I am back to slipping on a pair of sandals before I trudge into the bathroom in the dark. Thanks for the good reminders that the world is filled with balance.

Chrissy and Keith said...

Hola Bob:
I am back from a week on the coast of Nayarit.We have friends that built a home in the jungle there and every wet season they are invaded by brown frogs. They claim them to be poisoned spitting frogs, but they just look like normal froggies to me. I had one jump on the back of my leg one evening, so that was exciting. Anyway, I have not been able to find any good information on frogs for the area. Any suggestions?

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks for the reminder. Yes they use the word "capulina" here too. I just forgot about it.

Don't forget to check for monsters under the bed :)

No, I am a Raid Max kind of guy :)

Get a blacklight for use when you go to the bathroom at night.

I have seen pictures from China where people grill scorpions and eat them. Thanks for the feedback on cats.

Chrissy and Keith,
To tell you the truth I never heard of a poisonous spitting frog. Maybe they were just teasing you. One of the most common frogs in that area is "Rana pustulosa" which is also known as "Rana de Cascada" or "Cascade Frog". It is a nice friendly little froggie. The poison frogs tend to be leaf frogs. I challenge you to find out more about frogs then you can be our frog expert :)

Chrissy and Keith said...

Thanks Bob, no they were not teasing me and I think they had been informed of this from their Mexican house keeper. Our friends are terrified of all retiles so it doesnt surprise me that they carried on the rumor. I had to chase a 3 foot iguana out of the bodega while I was there, but not until I had hand fed him some cucumber I was cutting up for lunch. I tossed it down his gullet while he was hissing at me. i research the frogs and let you know.

glorv1 said...

p.s. Bob...I meant to say I "HATE" snakes too not have snakes. No way jay, I'd get out of here fast is snakes lurked in my backyard. I didn't have nightmares after all, I guess I'm all grown up now.:D Take care and have a good week.

Amanda said...

Thanks for the pics Bob, I killed a couple spiders this week and was wishing I could find pictures of the ones that were poisonous. Once again you have saved me from hours of web surfing (which is something I'm no good at). Thankfully none of them looked like the above pics. Also the ones you described I'm use to looking out for they sound just like the ones from the states.

Bob Cox said...

I was bitten by a Capulina a few years ago and it almost did me in. I had a fever of 104, halucinations and my arm sweled up like a cantalope. It put me in the hospital for a week and they had to operate to lance the bite to get the infection out. I was in an old storage room full of old wood when I got hit. My blood pressure dropped and I had a couple of blackouts.
I HATE SPIDERS...Bring on the Raid.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.