Now, tiny ants, bees & spiders, and cute raccoons & beavers are probably the farthest from your mind when you think of a wildlife encounter, right? After all, they’re present everywhere, especially pesky bugs. So why should one exercise camping and hiking safety practices for these itty, bitty creatures?
While these animals lack the size, majesty, ferociousness, and—we’re saying it—floof of a grizzly bear, they do pose very real potential for serious harm. Mosquitos, especially, exceed even the bears’. Now, you won’t die as dramatically as in a mauling but of a good ‘ol disease. Still, you’ll be dead anyway. So don’t take any chances and follow these Camping and Hiking Safety precautions to keep them away. We also included facts about these wildlife, and what to do if bitten or attacked.
The threat of danger isn’t just from the biggest inhabitants in the wild. It can come from the smallest too. Insects are mostly annoying but they still carry risks, ranging from mild allergic reactions to fatal disease.
While ants are present at home, they are not uncommon in the wild. In fact, ants are ubiquitous, they are everywhere! Found in all of the continents in the world, except Antarctica. (So why then was it named ANTarctica, eh? Should’ve been NoANTarctica, no?)
You’ll probably be more surprised if you don’t encounter ants. The only species that are as widely distributed? You and I, humans.
Fun facts about Ants
There are a lot of them
Understatement of the century right there, fellas. While there are ant colonies with just a few dozen ants or so, the average colony is composed of thousands. There are also supercolonies that have been found all over the world to have millions and billions of ants! These colonies can stretch to hundreds of acres and spread to thousands of miles. *Ahem, Argentine ants, ahem* They’ve created their own highways, gardens, interconnected tunnels, and the works. Wow, that must be some queens they got there.
Ant zombies, run!
If you’re an ant, that is. On second thought, don’t run, take your zombie mate far, far away from the colony so they don’t infect anymore. At least, that’s what some of these clever and brave ant species do.
There’s a fungus that infects ants and makes them zombies. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis spore attaches to the ant exoskeleton and slowly takes over. The zombie ant will leave the colony, bite a leaf in a death grip nearby, and die. The fungus will then eat the ant’s innards and in time, release new spores to infect more ants.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Ants want nothing to do with you and everything to do with your foodstuff and leftovers.
The surest way to keep ants away is keeping camp clean and storing your food and food trash properly.
Really, that’s it, just like 80% of the animals on this list. Big or small, animals will always be attracted to food. And unattended food in your camp is just too great of temptation at times. Ants, especially, will not hesitate to crawl and attack your bread crumbs and leftover donuts. Make sure to:
-Wipe the camping table or mat down after every meal. If eating on the fly, use your hand to catch crumbs.
-Throw food wrappers properly and wash dishes right away after eating.
-Remove all traces of food before leaving camp or going to bed.
-Cover and store trash securely. Dispose of foodstuff promptly and don’t let it accumulate.
-When establishing a campsite, parking your RV/ travel trailer, or looking for a place to sit and rest during a hike, look around to make sure that you’re not dab smack in ant territory. Can’t blame them if you accidentally place your tent or sit on an anthill, my bro. That’s firsthand experience talking right there.
–If you see ants inside your tent or camp, take away whatever’s attracting them and dispose of it properly.
Ant bite allergy
Let’s be honest, if an ant or two bites you, you’ll probably just shrug it away like you always do. But allergic reactions are a more serious matter.
Ant bite allergies occur in less than 1% in children and 3% in adults. An allergic reaction is usually associated with redness or swelling in the bite site but can occur in other areas of the body as well.
First, make sure to remove yourself from the place where you were bitten.
Mild local reactions will usually go away after a short time and can be treated by just applying cool water or a simple ice pack to reduce the swelling. Aloe vera gel, honey or baking soda pastes may be used too.
For more severe reactions such as swelling of the face, diarrhea, vomiting, severe skin itching, dizziness, and chest pain, seek medical attention immediately.
Wild bees are found all over the US, with about 4,000 native bee species.
Your breakfast may have been brought to you by bees
Do you remember what you had for breakfast today? Dried fruit, fresh fruit, fruit juice? Strawberry jam, grilled vegetables, tossed salad? Yep, all brought to you by pollinators, a huge majority of which are likely bees.
Without our natural pollinators, pollinating crops would cost billions of dollars. Food will, in turn, cost much more to produce and they’d be much more expensive to buy. The economy will suffer, and you and I along with it.
Honey bees are the only bees that die after stinging
Yep. If you don’t wanna get stung by a honey bee, they want to sting you even less. That’s because they die if they do. But don’t get too complacent because despite their own fate, honey bees will sting you if they decide that you pose a threat. Long live the colony!
Honey bees are not native to America, however. The native bees like bumblebees and solitary species can sting you more than once and live to sting again. That said, many native bee species can not sting you at all.
You can help bees and other pollinators through one or more of these 9 simple ways.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Bees are attracted to food, like any other animal. As you are not any type of bee food and they don’t eat the stuff that we do, there are two things that will make you look attractive to bees—looking and smelling like flowers.
Get rid of flowery and sweet smells. Don’t wear that perfume named “garden fresh” or “sweet rose” when camping or hiking. Even sweet-smelling food like barbecue sauce will attract bees, so there’s that.
Pro tip: Start the fire first before cooking. Bees don’t like smoke and will stay away from the campfire.
While you’re at it, purchase organic biodegradable products. These include toothpaste, shampoo, deo, lotion, etc. They’re usually odor-free or smell more natural and not as strong as artificial products. Plus you’re helping the environment too.
Don’t wear bright colors and bold patterns. Try not to look like a flower, really. These include tents, tablecloths, backpacks, shoes, etc.
Do wear clothing with coverage. Can’t get stung if stingers can’t get through. When out and about, wear long sleeves, long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and a solid pair of hiking shoes. Gloves too, if it isn’t too hot. This is not just great protection from bees but from pesky mosquitos too.
Be careful where you put up a campsite, park your RV/ travel trailer, or where you stop for a rest when hiking. Check for bee signs and places that may attract bees like old tree trunks, rock outcroppings, an abundance of flowers, or buzzing.
Especially if you’re allergic, keep your tent door or net flap close at all times.
What to do if you encounter bees
If you see a bee while hiking, leave her be but bee aware and go on your merry way. (All worker bees are female. Male bees pose no danger as they live mostly just to procreate and don’t have stingers.
If you see a swarm or hive, back away quietly and steer clear. Stay calm, move slowly, and don’t make any loud noises. You don’t want them to think that you’re a threat.
Stung by a bee
If not allergic, most adults of average size can take a thousand bee stings and just be dandy. So don’t panic if you get stung. Here’s what you do:
-Leave the place where you were stung and head to a safer area.
-Remove the stinger. Scraping with a credit card works.
-Wash the site of the sting with soap and water.
-Apply a topical wound cream or soothing creams like hydrocortisone or aloe vera.
Bee sting allergy
It’s different if you are allergic, however.
For mild reactions such as localized redness and itching only, without any breathing problems, an antihistamine will usually do the trick. Visiting a doctor when you can is still a good idea, though.
Seek medical attention right away if you start exhibiting signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as:
-flushed or pale skin
-nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
-rapid but weak pulse
-dizziness, or fainting
-loss of consciousness
There are 174 known mosquito species found all over the US. There are 50 found in NYC alone, 24 in West Virginia, and 85 species are found in Texas.
Not-so-fun-facts about mosquitoes
The world’s deadliest animal
Mosquitos are the number one killer of humans. Humans, second
champions of disease transmission. Not only are they annoying and their bites itchy, but these pesky pests also transmit more diseases than any other on earth, and cause millions of death every year. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.
Malaria alone infects about 300-600 million people yearly, resulting in over a million deaths, mostly of children under five years old. According to UNICEF, malaria kills a child every 30 seconds and 3000 children every day.
The big three
The world has 3,500 species of mosquitoes but only around 200 consume human blood. Of these, three species are the primary culprits for the deadliest and most number of diseases they transmit.
-The Anopheles species carry and spread malaria, encephalitis, and filariasis/elephantiasis.
-The Aedes species carry and spread dengue, yellow fever, Zika virus, and encephalitis.
-And the Culex species carry and spread the West Nile virus, encephalitis, and filariasis/elephantiasis.
All three species can be found in the United States.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Unlike any other animal on this entire camping and hiking safety series, mosquitos are the only ones that will go straight for you. Humans (or any warm-blooded creature) are their “prey”.
Other animals would rather not encounter humans and would most likely flee from you if they’re not provoked or tempted. Mosquitos are a different ball game altogether. They will seek you out. They will annoy you and worst of all, they may gift you with a potentially fatal disease or at least a nightmare hospital bill in the process.
It’s not as easy to keep food away from mosquitos when you’re the food. Luckily, they can be kept away using a number of ways.
-Clothes are your first line of defense against mosquitos. Wearing loose, light-weight, and comfortable long-sleeved tops and long bottoms can protect you well. Add on socks, closed shoes, gloves, and a hat for more cover, as long as you’re comfortable.
-Tuck your sleeves into your gloves, shirttails in your pants, and pants into your socks. You may not look in the heights of fashion but you will be in the heights of protection.
-Avoid dark colors when possible as mosquitos are known to be attracted to dark colors.
-Smoke your clothes in the campfire. Smoke is a natural mosquito repellent.
Don’t look and smell like food.
Since it’s fairly known that mosquitos are more attracted to dark colors, wear light-colored clothing. Airy, comfortable, light-colored clothing is the way to go if you’re worried about the heat.
Try not to smell like food too. Avoid strong-smelling products that can attract the pesky pests. These include hygiene products like soaps and shampoo. Unscented is a good choice when camping and hiking in general so you don’t attract unwanted attention from wildlife. Their sense of smell is usually stronger than ours, after all.
Mosquito repellants and bug spray
Mosquito repellants and bug spray are indispensable in mosquito country. There are countless choices for repellants available today, from the most natural and organic products to the strongest chemical alternatives out there. Choose the one that works for you.
It’s also a good idea to pick the waterproof kind. Sweating is when hiking and splashing from a nearby body of water will most likely wash repellents that aren’t waterproof.
For added protection, spray your clothes, tent or RV/trailer, and other camping gear too.
Pick your spot carefully
Avoid water, especially stagnant water like ponds, swamps, or puddles. Try to avoid camping near vegetation too. Choose a high ground like mounds or a hill, if possible.
Mosquito-proof your accommodation
Mosquitos are most active during dawn, dusk, and early evening. Try to stay inside your shelter during these hours or make sure that you are wearing appropriate clothing and mosquito repellent when venturing outside. Follow these steps for a mosquito-proof accommodation:
-Keep your tent and windows close.
As with most bugs, tents that zip securely close will be sure to keep mosquitos away. Keep your tent or RV/trailer windows close, especially before going to sleep at night.
-A screen works wonders
Tents with mosquito netting flaps or screen rooms are even better. They let you see the view outside and let’s air in to keep you cool on humid nights.
-Keep artificial lights at a minimum
Mosquitos and bugs are attracted to light. Keep your flashlights and camp lamps at a minimum.
-Build a campfire
Unlike the attractive artificial lights, mosquitos don’t like the fire and smoke of a good-ol’ campfire.
-An RV/trailer offers more protection
What to do with mosquitos
The trick is to not let them bite you in the first place. Mosquitos host a number of really nasty viruses that you won’t want anything to do with. Be sure to follow the camping and hiking tips above.
If you’re still on the trail during dawn, dusk, or early evening, slather on mosquito repellent ahead of time.
If you see one try to bite you, many will tell you that the drill is to squish them between your palms or slap them against your skin. We don’t necessarily disagree. (Just don’t get too involved and invested that you lessen your enjoyment at camp when you don’t catch one, slowpoke. Hehehe!)
Or better yet, spray them down.
Mosquito bites can be itchy but they usually go away after a while. If you are extra sensitive, relieve the itch by washing the area with soap and water, then applying anti-itch lotion or ice. You can also take an antihistamine if needed.
The reddening you sometimes see on the site of a mosquito bite is actually a mild allergic reaction. However, if you experience other symptoms such as vomiting, fainting, and/or breathing problems, seek immediate medical attention.
Well, flies are everywhere. There are 23,700 species of Diptera or flies in the US alone. They’re actually the second most populous insects in the country, next to beetles.
‘Fun’ Facts about flies
Flies will vomit on your food.
Protect your food well because there’s a very good reason why it’s an excellent idea to throw food or parts of the food away that a fly has landed on. You see, flies live on a liquid diet. They can’t chew food so they drink it. In order to eat solid food, they regurgitate a type of stomach acid to break down and minutely liquefy your pizza so they can suck it up through their proboscis. Yum.
They might also have defecated on your food. Because of their liquid diet, a fly’s digestive system works fast. So you know what’s produced rapidly by a fast digestive system. Flies can defecate anywhere they land, and yes, that includes you and your food.
If that’s not enough, flies will also lay eggs on the food they’re snacking…ehem, sucking on. Weird way to call dibs but OK.
After all that, vomit, feces, and eggs are only half of your problems. While flies actually like to constantly clean themselves (to keep their senses sharp and so they can “fly” with precision), they can still carry hundreds of diseases like the dreadful cholera, along with E. coli., polio, typhoid, dysentery and salmonella. Food can get infected from their hairy arms and legs as soon as the fly lands. Yikes.
You can’t sneak up on a fly from behind
If they’re paying attention, you can’t sneak up on a fly from any direction at all. They have all-seeing compound eyes that will see you from behind, on the left, on the right or from above.
And if that’s not enough, flies have amazing reaction times too. While the “big and smart” human brain only processes around 60 images per second, the “small and dumb” fly brain can process more or less 250!
They can calculate the angle of your attack and create a flight plan to avoid that newspaper, all within a hundred millisecond after spotting the move. They will leap over backward with their hind legs and successfully avoid you. That’s why it’s better to play the flies’ calculation games and anticipate where they’re going to react and move instead of rushing at ‘em head-on.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Imagine enjoying your camping and hiking trip, then all of a sudden, you get a bad case of the runs? Or gippy tummy, the tots, gastrointestinal distress—however you wanna call it. Not a fun scenario, eh? Especially on the trail, with no “viable” toilets in site, goodness! Gives you anxiety just thinking about it.
-Keep your food safe
Well, this the number one rule when venturing into the wild. Never leave food uncovered, especially during the fly season. Store edibles securely and get rid of food wastes properly. After all, flies may well be the least of your worries if a curious bear happens to smell a feast and wanders into an unattended camp.
-Clean up diligently after eating
Most of the time, flies are really just after your leftover food scraps. Always make it a habit to clean up after eating. Wipe your table clean, wash the dishes, and get rid of food wrappers and food scraps properly as soon as you finish eating. Be sure there aren’t any yummy crumbs left for flies to feast on.
-Bug repellents and fly traps
Repellents work just as well on flies as they do on mosquitos. DEET is found to be the most effective for keeping flies away but organic alternatives like citronella oil work too.
Not the most attractive sights to have in your camp but flytraps are also very effective. If you aren’t familiar with them, these are papers or boards with sticky, sweet-smelling stuff on the surface that will attract flies and trap them once they land.
Especially if biting flies are around, it’s a good idea to cover up with protective clothing. Light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants are ideal.
You can also set up a screened “dining room” within your tent or camp using mosquito netting. If you are in an RV/trailer, screened windows will keep your home in the wilderness fly-free.
-Beware of fly season
Some months will have more flies than others, depending on where you plan to camp and hike. Ask around to find out when you have to be extra vigilant or when to avoid fly season altogether. In the Adirondacks for example, there are spring and summer months when it’s a better idea to plan for some other time than wade through the thick clouds of black flies that you’ll be sure to encounter.
What to do with flies
Because it’s so hard to sneak on these tiny bugs, trying to squish between your palms might be an exercise in futility. But there might just be something just as satisfying you can do.
Have you seen one of those tennis racket-shaped zappers that pop mosquitos? They work quite well on flies too. Flies are considerably more agile than mosquitos so you’ll probably get a workout in addition to the satisfaction of zapping the nasty insects.
If you see a fly land on your breakfast, you better say goodbye to that food. Don’t even think that just because it landed for just a sec, you’re safe. Germs can transfer in just that second of contact so you ain’t safe, pal. The tots are calling, remember?
Most flies you’ll encounter are just interested in your food but some do bite. Beware of biting midges or gnats, black flies, deer flies, horseflies, sand flies, and stable flies. These are the six flies in the US that do.
If you are bitten, clean the area with soap and water. Apply ice or cold compress to reduce the itch and swelling. You can also use over-the-counter medication like anti-inflammatory and anti-itch creams such as hydrocortisone. If you start to show allergic reactions (e.g. hives, difficulty breathing) or symptoms of infections (e.g. fever, nausea), consult a doctor immediately.
There you have it, the most common insects that you will encounter in the wild, the harm they can likely cause, how to keep them away, and what to do when bitten or stung.
Did you know that there are 30 million species and 10 quintillion individual insects that are living today at any given time? To put that into perspective, that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 insects, which is almost 1.5 billions more times the number of humans here on earth!
Next, up! We’ll be covering other bugs and small animals that you may encounter in the wild, along with the camping and hiking safety precautions you can take.
Other Small Animals
There are around 45,000 species of spiders all over the world and they can be found in all the continents, except Antarctica. (The Antarctic sea spiders that can grow to humongous size aren’t really true spiders. Hah!)
There are 3,000 species found in the United States.
Fun facts about spiders
Not all spiders have 8 eyes
They all do have 8 legs but not all spiders have 8 blinkers, some only have 6. This group includes the brown recluse spider, which you may remember from spiders to avoid 101.
Some spiders have even fewer than 6 eyes. The interesting fact is, they always come in even numbers. There goes our hope for cyclops spiders.
Silk and venom
All spider species do produce silk and they can make many types depending on what they’ll use it for. There is silk for web-spinning, for attacking prey, for gift-wrapping as a mating present, etc.
Spiders “listen” to their silk to detect deformities in their web or locate the presence of prey.
All but a small obscure family injects venom into said prey. Spiders use their hollow fangs, through which they transfer enzymes that kill by liquidizing their prey. The spider then sucks up the goop through the same mouthparts.
They have a very healthy appetite
Did you know that these arachnids eat more insects than birds and bats combined?
Spiders are vital to a healthy ecosystem. They also prey on insects that can greatly endanger our food supply. Plus, they eat many of the harmful insects from the earlier sections of this article. If not for spiders, you’d be battling exponentially more mosquitos and flies. An average size spider can eat hundreds of tiny flies in a day, for example.
If that’s not reason enough to like spiders, we don’t know what is. More people should love them! Well, except for the creepy 8 legs and eyes. They would also happily eat other spiders and some even cannibalize their own species, so there’s that.
Camping and Hiking Safety
The unwitting passenger
You get to camp after a long hike. You’ve set up your tent and can now relax. But all of a sudden voila, there’s a spider in your tent! But wait, did the spider crawl from the wilderness to your abode, or was it perhaps, an unwitting house spider that got carried along for the ride?
The first thing to do, even before you leave home is to check and shake the camping equipment for any spider who’s thought to make the small, dark, and cool crevice of a tent crease their home.
If you have an RV or travel trailer, check the dark corners and nooks and crannies like window sills, doorways and behind cabinets for any creepy crawlies lurking about.
Choose the right campsite
Try not to camp under trees or overhangs. There’s a reason for the common scene of spiders easily gliding down to surprise an unsuspecting character. If it’s unavoidable, hang a trap above your tent. Avoid camping near a water source or tall grasses too.
Be a good camper
Protect yourself by keeping food stored in the proper place and food trash properly disposed of.
Try not to wear scented products if possible and do wear protective clothing like lightweight long sleeves and pants. Bug repellents will help too.
When hiking, be on the lookout and stay aware of your surroundings. Be careful where you rest on or rest under.
What to do if you encounter a spider
Spiders are more afraid of humans than humans are of them. Although that may not be obvious from all the human screaming and jumping in the air when they’re around. Spiders will probably scream in fright too if they could. Some do already jump in the air.
If you see one at camp, toss it outside carefully. Kill if you must. If you encounter one on the trail, steer clear. Don’t disturb the spider and you’ll be on your merry way unharmed.
Spider bites can be serious business, especially a bite from a black widow spider or a brown recluse spider. Before an anti-venin was discovered, around 5% of victims of black widow spider bite result in death.
If you are bitten, wash the bite site with soap and water, then apply a topical antibiotic. Put ice on it or wrap with cloth dipped in cold water. Elevate the site if you were bitten in the arms or legs. Take an antihistamine or a painkiller if needed.
Get the spider that bites you, if it can be done without more harm to you. Or at least take a picture. If not, commit what it looks like to memory so you can later relay the information to your doctor later, if the worse happens.
When to visit the doctor
If the pain and redness around the bite site progressively become worse in 24 hours, you experience stomach pain, cramps vomiting and trouble breathing or you have an open sore, a bullseye mark, or fluid coming out of the wound, it’s time to seek medical attention.
Like spiders, ants, and many other animals, snakes are found in all the continents except Antarctica. New Zealand, Iceland, and Ireland are countries that don’t have snakes. However, they are all over the U.S.
Snakes have inner ears but no outer ears
What? Yeah, they have ears inside their bodies but no external ears. So how do snakes hear? We actually don’t really know if snakes can hear sounds traveling through the air.
Dancing snakes that appear to be controlled by a flute actually respond to movement and not sound.
But they do hear sounds traveling through the ground. The snake’s inner ear is directly connected to their jawbone so sound travels through bone conduction and they “hear” vibrations in the ground.
Snakes can also ‘smell’ the air through their forked tongues and ‘feel’ the heat from warm-blooded prey through pit holes in front of their eyes. Go figure.
There are 3000 species of snakes, 700 of which are venomous and 250 of those can kill a human in just a single bite. Venomous snakes are the ones you really have to watch out for because they’re usually thin, small and camouflaged, which makes them difficult to see. In America, the most common snake bites are from rattlesnakes.
Sea snakes are some of the most venomous snakes in the world, but they are shy, don’t like to bite, don’t like injecting venom when they do bite, and their fangs are too short to be very effective anyway.
The King Cobra is the longest venomous snake. It can grow to 5.6m or 18.5 ft in length.
Speaking of length, Anacondas are known for being quite large but reticulated pythons are actually longer. Anacondas can grow up to 5m or 16 ft in length but reticulated pythons have them beat at 8.7m or 28 ft long.
Both are non-venomous. Non-venomous snakes swallow their prey alive or squeeze them to death and swallow them whole. Constrictor snakes, especially, are made of pure muscle. They wrap themselves around their prey and every time the prey exhales, the snake squeezes tighter. The prey usually expires as their hearts stop within minutes due to the tremendous pressure.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Choosing the right campsite
Because snakes are cold-blooded, they like warm moist, spots. Avoid wooded areas, rock or log piles, fallen trees, areas near a water source, or heavy brush, all of which offer plenty of hiding places.
You can also clear up the clutter in your campsite that can hide snakes. These include piles of firewood or stacks of leaves and twigs.
Store food properly
We always mention this, and for good reason. Snakes might not be too attracted by your leftover burger or fries but rodents are. And where there are rodents…you guessed it right, snakes might follow.
What to do if you encounter a snake
Snakes don’t really attack unprovoked and will want to stay away from humans. However, it’s an instinctive reaction to strike when surprised or acting defensively.
-Stay around or away from rocks or brush where they may be hiding.
-Always watch where you step or rest. Check logs and rocks before sitting down.
-If you encounter a snake, don’t panic. Back away and give it plenty of room to slither away. Do not approach. Leave it undisturbed.
-If you accidentally stepped on it, move away immediately.
-Always treat all snakes as dangerous, even the seemingly dead ones. Even if it is truly dead, snakes can retain muscle reflex and inject you with poison that has pooled in its fangs.
When a snake bites
All snake bites must be treated as an emergency. Call 911 right away. I.D. or take a picture of the snake if you can. Don’t clean the wound as it can be used for identification earlier. You may have bigger problems than infection, after all. Do keep the bite site lower than your heart.
There are only two species of beavers, one is the American beaver and the other is the Eurasian beaver.
Beavers need water to survive so they can be found around freshwater such as ponds, rivers, lakes, swamps, marches, etc. They avoid desert areas without an abundant source of water.
They are good role models
Well, if your role model must be animal, then what’s better than a beaver? They are known for being industrious, hard-working and prolific engineers and construction workers. Beavers don’t hibernate. (Ain’t nobody got time for that.) Instead, they continue to swim, forage and build even throughout the winter.
Fun fact: There used to be a beaver pond where Times Square is now.
The beavers’ powerful jaws and teeth, along with their instinctive determination allow these rodents to fell trees, build complicated damns, and alter their habitats in tremendous ways that few other animals can. In fact, they may well be second only to humans in this way.
Beavers are a keystone species and are very beneficial to the environment. ‘Eager-beaver’ and ‘as busy as a beaver’ are very apt idioms indeed.
They eat trees
Yep, not just crops, aquatic plants, weeds, or tree leaves but the wood, bark, and roots of trees. Beavers have large upper incisors that they use on thick, hard trees to turn into houses called lodges, and serve as food.
They secrete a brown goo from their butt…
…and you may have eaten or used it at least once. Thankfully though, it’s not the kind you’re probably thinking of right now. Beavers secrete a brown goo that’s a thick as molasses and smells like vanilla. It’s an FDA approved ingredient in natural vanilla flavoring and also used in medicine and perfume.
Under the beaver’s tail are castor sacs that produce this goo. The chemical compound is castoreum. Due mainly to how difficult it is to obtain, castoreum is rarely used in food now.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Beaver attacks are incredibly rare, that’s why they make sensational headlines.
-Avoid camping beside a water source and especially near beaver damns. Avoid bodies of water like ponds, lakes, rivers, marches, etc.
-Avoid trees and plantlife near water in beaver country too. Some of their favorite trees are aspen, poplar, willow, cottonwood, alder, birch, and maple trees.
What to do if you encounter a beaver
Beavers are nocturnal so you’re more likely to come across their work rather than the creatures themselves. They also don’t usually travel more than 100m away from their pond.
-If you see a beaver dam or lodge, steer clear so you don’t risk disturbing a slumbering beaver who turns grumpy when woken up. Though they don’t like anything to do with humans, beavers can attack in self-defense.
If you accidentally stumbled into beaver territory, quietly make your retreat.
-Most attacks, though rare, involve a rabid beaver. This is a good reason why you have to be extra vigilant if a beaver tries to go for you.
-If one moves to attack, scare it away by trying to look bigger and making loud noises. Flashy lights and loud sound-makers like strobe lights, and sirens will also work as a deterrent.
-If it continues to attack, run away if you can. Those teeth can fell towering trees so stay well away from them. If you are unable to get away, fight it off with whatever you have at hand.
-If you are wounded during the altercation, seek medical attention right away for rabies shots.
Raccoons are native to the Americas, the most common and recognizable of which is the Procyon lotor or the common North American species. Humans have also brought them into other parts of the world. Today, raccoons are considered an invasive species in Europe. They were also exported to Japan by the thousands due to the popularity of a kid’s TV show that starred a raccoon. The exportation of raccoons into Japan has since been banned.
Raccoons are ubiquitous, mainly due to their high adaptability. They can be found in most wild environments but are more populous in marches, prairies, and forests. That said, they have now adopted to city-living, too, and are thriving. In fact, their populations have exploded despite the exploitation of much of their natural environments.
They are extra-clever
Raccoons are notorious for being smart, able to work out puzzles, and open locks to get to their food. They even passed an animal intelligence test that very few other animal species have passed. You might be familiar with the story behind the Aesop’s Fable intelligence test. In the tale, a thirsty crow was able to raise the level of the water in a pitcher by dropping stones into the container so it could drink.
In the experiment done with raccoons, they were presented with marshmallows floating on the water in a cylinder. Two out of the eight raccoons were able to successfully solve the puzzle by raising the water level using the stones scattered around the cylinder.
One raccoon, however, solved the puzzle by simply tipping the cylinder over by climbing above and rocking it. What a very raccoon behavior indeed, much like how they tip garbage cans over. Not only does this show that raccoons are very clever, but that they are also innovative.
Living the high life in the White House
Yes, a raccoon once lived in the White House. At the time, the president also had lion cubs, an antelope, bobcat, wallaby, and donkey inside the White House grounds so Rebecca the raccoon didn’t come as too big a surprise.
Rebecca was originally going to be a dish in the White House Thanksgiving dinner when Calvin Coolidge saw the animal and decided that he’d rather keep her as a pet than on the dinner table. Rebecca received a customized engraved collar, lived in the White House, often accompanied the president during his walks, and even took part in annual festivities.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Do not feed them
Raccoons looking for an easy handout are not a foreign sight when hiking and camping. They’re chubby and cute, and sometimes, hard to resist. However, one of the primary rules when around raccoons, as with all wildlife, is not to feed them. Raccoons are perfectly able to find their own food without human assistance. Giving them scraps now will not be a good thing for them in the long run. They might begin to associate humans with food and having wild animals that become used to humans generally does not have a happy outcome.
Store all food and drinks properly
The best defense against raccoons is to not have them show up or be attracted to your camp in the first place. Store all food and food wastes properly where raccoons will not be able to scent and get to them. A bear container works well. Inside your locked and secure car or RV/travel trailer is probably the best and most secure place to store edibles if you have that option.
Do not leave food around where it’s accessible to wildlife, and always check before settling in for the night. Neither should you burn food or any other trash. Not only is this bad for the environment and annoying to the neighbors, but the scent will also likely carry far and may attract more wildlife.
Clean up right away
Always properly throw food scraps and wrappers away after every meal, and don’t leave dirty dishes lying about. Wash your tableware right away and dispose of garbage where they will not attract unwanted visitors.
Use locked bins
Raccoons are very clever indeed and coupled with their dexterous hands, these allow raccoons to open containers that would otherwise be impossible for most other wildlife to get to. Store trash where you know raccoons won’t be able to access. A locked container is a good idea.
Raccoons have a sharp sense of smell, among many sharp senses. Try not to use fragrant toiletries or cleaning products when going camping and hiking as this may attract them too. Use biodegradable, unscented products for your dishwashing liquid, toothpaste, shampoo, mouthwash, soap, lotion, and such.
If possible, do your chores and toiletries like washing dishes and brushing teeth inside the designated campground wash area, kitchen, restroom, etc., or inside your RV or travel trailer.
Pack your condiments
An unlikely …, but chili pepper seems to work as a good deterrent against raccoons. Their acute sense of smell means strong spices can be irritating and can help confuse them too. So sprinkling some chili pepper, or even black pepper or cinnamon, will help. Of course, this won’t really stop a determined raccoon if you’ve got tempting food just lying about in the open.
Coming face-to-face with a raccoon
-Raccoons are more dangerous to your pets than to you so always keep them close when hiking or at camp.
-Raccoons pose close to zero threat to humans. They’d rather make their escape than confront a big, scary human. That said, always take care to steer clear of wildlife. While raccoons won’t want to fight you, they are very well-equipped and well-adapted to fighting and hunting. You will likely not escape unharmed.
-You may have noticed that when they come face to face with humans, raccoons will usually freeze and stare. This doesn’t mean they’re not afraid or startled, it’s their natural reaction and they may be assessing the situation, waiting for what you’ll do. The raccoon’s next move, even a mother raccoon, will usually be to try to run away.
-Don’t block the raccoon’s exit. Back off a bit and give it a way out so it’s not forced into defensive mode.
-Some raccoons can be very curious and bold, especially when they have become accustomed to humans. If the raccoon does not run away, shine a flashlight on it and make some noise by shouting, clapping your hands, using a horn, etc. Stand tall and make a step towards it.
-A very bold raccoon might try to scare you away by bluffing. It may gruff, feint or advance towards you, and might even try to take a swipe. If this happens, be wary of its sharp claws. Aim a hose and fire or throw a small ball in its direction. You can also use a long stick to scare or prod it away.
-If the raccoon is undeterred, aggressive, and continues advancing or even attacks, something’s not right. Rabies is a likely possibility. Back calmly away and make your escape. Try not to engage. Inform a ranger or the person-in-charge of the presence of the aggressive raccoon.
-If you get injured in a raccoon attack, seek medical attention right away. You may need a rabies shot.
Skunks are native to the Americas and all species of this stinky fluff ball family can be found in North and South America, except for two of its recently recognized members, the stink badgers of the Philippines and Indonesia.
The most common species in the US and what you’ll likely encounter is the striped skunk. Skunks are highly adaptable and can be found in forest edges, woodlands, deserts, grasslands, and even in your friendly, urban neighborhood.
They don’t really want to spray you
Of course, we’re beginning with the defense mechanism that skunks are famously known for. Their oh-so…aromatic spray. Skunks have sharp teeth and claws too but their stink bomb is their most powerful and effective defensive weapon. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on whose perspective you’re coming from) this ultra-defense weapon is also not an unlimited deal and takes a long time to “recharge”. So really, they’d rather run away or warn you off with their posturing rather than use their special weapon.
Natural tear gas
Of course, when they do decide to spray, it’s highly effective at shooing off predators…and almost everyone else around. A skunk’s spray doesn’t cause any permanent or lasting damage but if you’re hit in the eye, it can significantly impede vision or even cause temporary blindness.
If you’re in danger of getting sprayed, you better run away fast and far. Skunks have an accurate aim of up to 10m (33 ft). Once fired, the odor can reach up to 2.4km (1.5 miles) downwind. The smell can linger for days, weeks, or even months on absorbent material.
Because this smell is so nasty and potent, it can also induce nausea and vomiting. However, there are actually people who are actually immune to the smell. Insensitivity to particular smells is actually quite common and around 1 in every thousand is wouldn’t be able to smell the skunk spray’s odor at all. Some reactions may also vary, it can be the most horrible odor for one person or it can be fairly tolerable for others.
They eat rattlesnakes for breakfast
To redeem skunks in the cool-io meter, you should know that they’re immune to snake venom. Pretty cool, eh? Just like the infamous honey badgers, skunks hunt and eat rattlesnakes and other poisonous snakes too.
Camping and Hiking Safety
Keep your food and food scraps out of reach
Skunks are not really climbers or jumpers and they aren’t particularly dexterous so placing your food in a sealed container and out of reach should keep it safe from these critters.
Of course, you should always clean up immediately after eating and throw away food scraps properly to avoid attracting their attention. Skunks will usually avoid walking boldly into your dining area or picnic table (unlike some raccoons) and would prefer to rummage through the garbage bin. So make sure that your campsite bins are tightly sealed or keep trash in a cooler or bin inside your car, RV, or travel trailer.
Don’t feed them
As will all wildlife, don’t feed skunks, no matter how cute or pitiful they seem to beg you. Once skunks associate your camp with food, it’ll all go downhill from there. Plus, you’re also endangering their life by getting them used to humans. Not everyone likes skunks and will be kind to them. Especially when people are wary of being sprayed.
Leave a light on
Because skunks are nocturnal, they naturally shy away from light. Keeping your artificial lights lit at night will naturally deter skunks.
Coming face-to-face with a skunk
-Skunks are generally gentle animals. Unless it is cornered or feels threatened, this critter will rather not spray you.
-It’s best to keep your area pristine to not attract skunks in the first place, once they’re around, there’s really nothing much you can do if you don’t want to get sprayed.
-If you come face-to-face with one, try to give it away out, or space to run away.
-If the skunk is undaunted, scare it away by shining a light on it but don’t make sudden noises or movements that can startle it to spraying you.
-Watch out for warning and spraying signals especially, such as raising its tail, hissing, stomping its foot, and posturing. The spotted skank will even do a handstand and present you with an awkward dance. If the skank exhibits these behaviors, back away and get as far as you can.
-A healthy skunk will usually run away after they sprayed. An attacking skunk may be rabid. If you get wounded or injured, seek medical attention right away.
How to get rid of skunk spray odor
You’ve probably heard of bathing in tomato juice to get rid of the odor. Truth be told, this is likely nothing but an old wive’s tale. All this does masking or at best, reducing the odor. A better way of eliminating the chemicals produced by the skunk’s anal glands is by neutralizing them with some chemicals as well. Luckily, this magic formula is not made of some secret ingredients. Hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and some dish soap or baby shampoo are all easily-obtained household items.
Others You May Like:
Insects are everywhere and easy to avoid, how about bears? True, your chances of surviving a bear attack is probably way less than going against a swarm of mosquitos and flies. But we’ve got the article that just might give you a chance to survive. Check out our Camping Safety: Wild Animals and What to Do in an Encounter (Part 1) for more information on black, brown, and polar bears and what to do to stay alive and get away from an attack.
How about the wildlife that is smaller than bears but can be as deadly, just the same? Read about mountain lions, gators, coyotes, and more in our Camping Safety: Wild Animals and What to Do in an Encounter (Part 2).
Did you know that wild bison can actually be more dangerous than bears, mountain lions or gators? In fact, they do attack and injure more people than top predators at Yellowstone National Park! If you’re curious about these grass-eating wildlife and what to do if they attack, check out the Camping Safety: Wild Animals and What to Do in an Encounter (Part 3) and learn about wild herbivores like bison, elk, and more.
There’s more coming your way in the Camping and Hiking Safety: Bugs and Small Animals series, so stay tuned!