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How do I prepare for outdoors in Florida?
First and foremost, protect yourself from the sun -- even in winter. The ozone layer ain't what it used to be, and melanoma is no fun. Wear a big floppy hat *and* some SPF 30 sunscreen. And remember that the sunscreen really needs to be reapplied about once an hour, even if the label says it lasts longer. You'll also need a pair of sunglasses with UV protection. If you're coming by car, you'll want one of those sunscreens you put in the windshield when you park; otherwise, it can easily surpass 150°F inside the car while sitting there. No, that's not an exaggeration.
Be sure to carry plenty of water. You'll know you need it; it's so humid here that you'll be sweating profusely after only a little bit of exertion. Plan accordingly; you might want to carry a towel to pat yourself with, especially just before stamping in.
Poison ivy is ubiquitous in Florida. Learn what it looks like.
I'd say watch out for rattlesnakes, but you already know that. They're not really a problem because they'll warn you when you get too close. They are not aggressive at all; if you get bit, it's probably your fault.
A bigger problem is probably the cottonmouth moccasin, otherwise known as a water moccasin. They are deadly poisonous and they've been known to be somewhat aggressive, especially in the water. They don't always get out of your way when they see you coming on land. They are always found in or near water, so if you're not near water you can relax.
We also have coral snakes, although they're not very common. Some people strain their brains trying to remember this rule or that rule for distinguishing a coral snake from a king snake. I'll make it easy for you: If it has red, yellow, and black stripes, just leave it alone.
In fact, try to leave all snakes alone. They're actually pretty nice to have around, keeping the rat and mouse populations under control. Most of the snakes you'll find in Florida are non-venomous and quite pretty.
If you're an adult, alligators are a non-issue. Seriously, they are no problem at all, you can go swimming with them without concern. If you happen to see one, ask him to smile for a picture. If you have very small children with you, you need to be a bit more careful -- not so much of the alligator, but rather that your child doesn't think it's cute and walk right up to the toothy end. Finally, if you have a dog along, then you do need to be careful. They love dogs, they think they're just deee-licious. And the dog only too often is happy to oblige by running right up to the alligator and barking his fool head off.
Do not feed or harm alligators. Seriously, if a ranger or warden catches you doing either one, you'll be slapped with a surprisingly hefty fine at the very least and may actually see some jail time. They're very serious about keeping alligators untouched by humans in this state.
If you're in the wilderness in Florida in the warmer months, you're going to run into the Golden Silk spider, which many people simply call a Banana Spider because she's black and yellow and about the size of a banana! They are quite large, about the size of the palm of your hand. They are totally harmless, though. The big problem is their webs, which are incredibly sticky and strung between each and every pair of trees in the woods! If you look closely, you will see the male. He's a whole lot smaller and hanging around on the same web like a pest. Sometimes there are five of them on the same web with one female.
Please don't harass our spiders. We love our spiders; they're the reason we have so little trouble with mosquitoes, horseflies, and love bugs. If you are trying to get through the woods and there's a spider web in your way, simply pick up a stick and wave it in a circular motion in front of you. It'll wrap up the web along with the spider. Once you've cleared the way, simply toss the stick, with the spider aboard, to one side. She'll have a new web up by tomorrow morning.
The one poisonous spider we have is the Black Widow, well-known for having a red hourglass on her belly. If you can see the red hourglass, you're too close! Fortunately, they are not aggressive and will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
For the warmer months you'll need insect repellant, primarily for the ticks. Nasty lyme disease-carrying little buggers they are. One excellent way to minimize your exposure to ticks is to avoid touching the brush. If you walk the trails without touching anything, you'll have far fewer ticks to deal with than if you make a habit of pushing branches out of your way. When the branch moves, the tick drops off to see what he can land on.
The one good thing about ticks is that they generally walk around on you for hours before actually biting. After a hard day of letterboxing in the woods, it's not a bad idea to perform a "tick check" -- take off all your clothes and look carefully all over your body. Don't forget to look in your hair.
You're welcome to kill all the ticks you can. We hate 'em as much as you do!
We have our share of bees, wasps and hornets. Individually they're no problem, but you need to keep an eye out to avoid bumping into their nests. The worst one is the yellowjacket, because you won't see their nest -- they live in a hole in the ground that you can't see even after you know where it is. Usually the first sign that you're too close is that you've been stung a couple of times, and you'll probably get stung a couple more times before you get outta there.
Things you don't have to worry about: Climbing (the state is flat), mud (we have lots of sand, very little mud), rocks (again, sand, not many rocks).
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What can you do to prevent tick-borne diseases?
Deer tick are very common in some parts of the United States and can carry Lyme Disease. Southeastern Massachusetts (including Cape Cod) and Connecticut both have high rates of Lyme. It can be difficult to diagnose and very dangerous if untreated. Before boxing in a new area, check with locals to see if it is a problem in that area. Remember that deer tick are very small (they can pass through the eye of a needle) so you likely will never see the tick and will not always see the distinctive bullseye rash. If you have any symptoms, see your doctor and let her/him know that you have been in an area with Lyme. Unless there is frost or snow covering the ground, ticks will be trying to use you as a snack.
This information is from the Center for Disease Control website:
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful in the later stages of disease. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, landscaping, and integrated pest management. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.
Protect yourself from tick bites
- Tuck pants into socks to help keep ticks from biting.
- Avoid tick-infested areas. Many local health departments, parks, and cooperative extension services have information about the areas most infested with ticks. If you are in a tick-infested area, walk in the center of the trails to avoid contact with vegetation.
- Wear light-colored clothing, which allows you to see ticks that are crawling on your clothing. Tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up inside of your pant legs. Some ticks can crawl down into shoes and are small enough to crawl through most socks. When traveling in areas with lone star ticks (which are associated with Southern tick-associated rash illness, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever) you should examine your feet and ankles to ensure that ticks are not attached.
- Use chemical repellent with DEET or permethrin and wear protective clothing. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing. When used in this manner, the repellent will be protective for several days. Repellents containing DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to the skin, but they protect for only a few hours before reapplication is necessary. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes, and mouth. An alternative to DEET, picaridin, has recently become available in the United States. Picaridin has limited data published for tick repellency, but it may provide suitable protection.
Perform daily tick checks
- Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Conduct a body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find (see the "Safely remove ticks" section below for instructions on removing ticks). Check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, the back of knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist. Check your children for ticks, especially in the hair, when returning from potentially tick-infested areas.
- Check your clothing and pets for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing and pets. Both should be examined carefully, and any ticks that are found should be removed. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.
Safely remove ticks
Early tick removal may reduce the risk of infection of some tick-borne diseases. Follow the steps below to safely remove ticks from animals and humans:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers and protect bare hands with a tissue or gloves to avoid contact with tick fluids.
- Grasping tick with tweezers. Grab the tick close to the skin. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin.
- Pulling tick upward with tweezers. Gently pull straight up until all parts of the tick are removed.
- After removing the tick, wash your hands with soap and water (or waterless alcohol-based hand rubs when soap is not available). Clean the tick bite with an antiseptic such as iodine scrub, rubbing alcohol, or water containing detergents.
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