By Robert Samuelsen

The harshness of the Sonoran Desert is no better demonstrated than through the cuts, pokes, scrapes and bites by desert rocks, flora, and fauna. It seems like every time I’m outdoors I come back with some sort of trauma – blood, swelling, itching, or a burn. Everything in the desert ecosystem seems to have adapted to inflict pain to those to meddle with it.

Shortly after moving here I found an unusual looking beetle in my tent about the same time I started to feel intense pain in my head and neck. As it turns out this conenose beetle had decided to “kiss” me a few times behind the ear leaving me with a strong allergic reaction to its bite. Attracted by the expulsion of carbon dioxide from our lungs this miserable critter often bites on the lips, giving it the nickname of the kissing bug. It injects analgesia saliva through its bite, sucks your blood, defecates on the bite location, and then rubs the feces in the bite mark with its hind legs. Some kissing bugs carry a parasitic mite that is transmitted through its feces to the host causing potentially fatal Chagas disease. If the Chagas disease or anaphylactic reaction don’t get you, then the thought of beetle feces being rubbed into your wound will certainly cause you mental anguish!

Every year, we find scorpions in our house and yard. It seems they are omnipresent even though we engage professional exterminators every month. Once I found an Arizona giant hairy scorpion in the garage which was about the size of my hand! However, most of the time I find small bark scorpions. Bark scorpions are the most venomous and the best climbers of the Arizona scorpions. I’ve been bitten twice, both times this fall! The first time I was bitten was on my foot. Within minutes I had tingling in my lips and tongue, numbness in my fingertips, and the sense of swelling in my foot. After 30 minutes the tingling had spread to my entire body and I had numbness in all of my extremities, lips, mouth, and tongue. My foot felt the size of a basketball; I had pain and I felt tired. Ironically, there was no visible bite mark on my foot! The second time I was bitten was on my pinky finger. For some reason, the neurotoxin only spread to my ring finger and part of my hand and it only lasted 24 hours. The bark scorpion is the only one that is potentially lethal to humans but most of the time, bites don’t need to be medically treated. If I catch them alive, I like to test their swimming skills in a swirl of water! So far, not a single one knows the breaststroke well enough to escape a porcelain whirlpool!

I also lost a battle to the common landscape gopher plant. Gopher plants have a toxic sap that can cause severe irritation to the skin and poisoning if ingested. I learned the hard way when trying to trim this overgrown plant in my own yard. After pruning it I broke out into a whole-body rash that felt like I had just run through a mosquito infested wildfire. The swelling, itching, and burning lasted about 24 hours even with massive doses of Benadryl. Ultimately, I won the war by removing this repulsive ornamental succulent from my yard so it will never afflict me again.

Rob Samuelsen is an executive and adventurer supported by his long-suffering but supportive wife!

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