CLARKSBURG, WV (WBOY) — Wild and Wonderful West Virginia is a great place to see wildlife, but there are certain ways to handle wild animals that everyone from nature enthusiasts to city slickers should be aware of. In general, the best thing to do if you run into wild animals is to leave them alone, but there are some instances when interacting with them is necessary, for either your safety or theirs.

Snakes

Timber rattlesnake (Courtesy: Peter Paplanus via Wiki Commons)

West Virginia only has two species of snakes that you need to worry about, although the other ones can still bite. In general, the best thing to do if you see a snake is to just leave it alone. Make sure you do not get within striking distance of a copperhead or rattlesnake.

Copperhead (Courtesy: Wilafa via Wiki Commons)

If you are bitten by a copperhead or rattlesnake, the National Park Service recommends the following steps:

  • Get away from the snake. Rattlesnakes and copperheads can strike at a distance equal to about half their body length and can bite more than once. Do not attempt to kill or capture the snake.
  • Stay calm; don’t panic.
  • Look for signs of envenomation: severe burning pain at the site of the bite, swelling beginning within about five minutes of getting bit and progressing up the limb, discoloration and blood-filled blisters developing in 6 to 48 hours. In at least 25% of bites, no venom is injected.
  • If there are immediate symptoms, get help immediately.
  • Send someone for help; Call 911.
  • Try to keep the affected limb lowered below the victim’s heart.
  • Keep the victim as quiet and calm as possible; activity can increase venom absorption.
  • Seek medical help even if there is no immediate reaction. All bites can cause infection and should be treated by a physician.
  • DO NOT use a tourniquet, which can cause severe damage if it’s wound too tight.
  • DO NOT use cold or ice; it does not inactivate the venom and can lead to frostbite.
  • DO NOT attempt to cut the bite or suck out the venom; cutting can damage blood vessels and nerves.
  • DO NOT consume alcoholic beverages, which can dilate vessels and compound shock.

If you need to move a snake that is in your home, Wildlife Help offers advice here.

Box turtles

Box turtles are one wild animal that most people are excited to see. Because box turtles move so slowly, it is common to find them in the middle of the road. If you do go to rescue a box turtle from being hit by a car, there are some very specific steps you need to follow so that the turtle can safely continue on his or her way.

  1. Support under the turtle when you lift it. A turtle’s shell is part of its body, so if you pick it up by its sides, it’s the equivalent of being picked up by only the skin on your back. Instead, make sure to support under the turtle’s belly. You should pick up the turtle the same way you would pick up a big hamburger or sandwich: fingers supporting underneath and thumbs resting gently on top of the shell.
  2. Put the turtle down facing the same direction as when you picked them up. Box turtles don’t have the best sense of direction; so if you put them down facing back toward the road or in a different direction than they were originally going, they will probably get lost. If that turtle was on its way to a food or water source, it could never make it there if you don’t point it in the right direction.

Whenever you are rescuing a box turtle, make sure that you put your safety first; never stop by the side of the road or walk into the road if you cannot safely do so.

Also, remember that you should never keep a box turtle as a pet. It is illegal to keep most native reptiles and amphibians as pets, including eastern box turtles.

Snapping turtles

Unless you have to help a snapping turtle, these are one of the species you might want to just leave alone. Unlike box turtles, snapping turtles will bite and can really hurt you. If you find one of these in the road, after you can safely stop, try to push the turtle out of the road from behind with a blunt object.

According to the Mon River Trails Conservancy, if you don’t see a real-life snapping turtle, you might also be able to find remains of snapping turtle nests in areas in north central West Virginia like the Mon River Trails. According to the conservancy, snapping turtles lay eggs in trailside ballast and hatchlings will emerge 55-125 days later unless the eggs are predated which happens to most nests.

Deer

Encountering deer, in general, is a pretty common happening in West Virginia. However, the real confusion can come if your car sees the deer before you do. If you do hit a deer with your vehicle, here are steps you should take, according to Wildlife Help.

  • Pull over in a safe location and turn on your hazard lights.
  • Call for emergency services if your vehicle is damaged too badly to drive.
  • Stay away from the deer. If it is still alive it will be frightened and confused and you could be injured.
  • Notify the police if the deer or your vehicle are in locations that might endanger other drivers.
  • When in doubt, call 911 or ask responders for information and advice.

Black bears

The recent black bear population is on the rise, which means you’re more likely to see one. According to the West Virginia Extention office, in 1970, black bears could only regularly be found in 10 counties and the estimated population was less than 500. In the last 50 years, many positive steps allowed the healthy growth of West Virginia’s bear population.  

According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce, there are the steps you should take if you encounter a bear:

  • Remain calm.
  • DON’T approach a bear.
  • DON’T run from a bear.
  • DON’T climb trees to escape a bear.
  • Give the bear a clear escape route.
  • Quietly back away and leave the area.
  • If attacked, immediately fight back.

The National Park Service said that you should never play dead if a black bear attacks. Direct punches and kicks at the bear’s face, and use any weapon like rocks, branches, or bear spray to defend yourself.

Make sure you never feed black bears.

Spiders

There are only two types of venomous spiders in West Virginia that can seriously harm people. Black widows and brown recluses are both very small and can be deadly, especially to small children. If you are bitten by one of these spiders, you should seek medical attention.

Black widows are native to West Virginia and are easily recognizable from the red hourglass shape on their abdomen. They are not aggressive and rarely bite humans. Brown recluse spiders are not native to West Virginia but could be found in some southwestern counties.

For the most part, as long as you leave spiders alone, they will not attack you. While there are other species of spiders that look scary, like the much larger fishing spider, bites from other spiders can be treated by washing the area, applying an ice pack and taking ibuprofen.

Ticks

No one wants to think about it, but if you are spending any time outside, especially around woods or tall plants, you are probably more likely to encounter a tick than anything else. The most common tick in West Virginia is an American dog tick, which can carry Lyme disease. Deer ticks and lone star ticks are also native, according to the WVU Extention office.

Using bug spray can help prevent ticks, but if you’re spending time outside, you should check for ticks regularly. If you find a tick that is already attached, the CDC recommends removing the tick with tweezers by pulling upward with steady pressure. Make sure to remove the mouth part of the tick, and then clean the affected area with alcohol. Do not crush the tick, and dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet.