In the know: Surviving animal encounters

Spring 2018

illustration of beach with stingray in waterWhile on a ski trip in Breckenridge, Colo., Rachel Levin ’96 looked up and was startled to see a moose in her path. Unsure of what to do, she swiftly turned around, glided away, and hoped it wouldn’t follow. That night, when Levin recounted the story to her husband, he told her that moose don’t typically follow humans — they charge them.

The experience prompted Levin, a freelance writer, to pen the lighthearted and informative, recently released book Look Big: And other tips for surviving animal encounters of all kinds (Ten Speed Press). Whether you find yourself encountering a bunch of black widows or a surfeit of skunks, she has tips on how to survive. And as for that moose? You should walk away slowly with your palms up. If it starts to charge, run. Here’s more advice from Levin:

Black widow spiders — No need to panic, but black widows seem to be hiding out lately in bunches of grapes. Not long ago, a Michigan woman reached into a bag she bought at Walmart and screamed. So did a BJ’s Wholesale Club shopper in Pennsylvania … Boston … Wisconsin … Black widows have been found hitching rides on store-bought fruit into homes around the country. Growers don’t spray insecticides as much as they used to, which is good news for our food but bad news for arachnophobes and for anyone who accidentally gets bitten.

What to do: Remain calm and call poison control, stat. Jumping around will only speed the spread of the spider’s venom in your bloodstream. Please don’t try to suck it out like you’re Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile. (Do you really think that works?) Wash the site with soapy water. Apply ice and await the arrival of the antivenom. (Or the Ativan.)

Stingrays — “Whenever you get feet in the water and stingrays where the feet are, you get problems,” says Mike Halphide, a longtime lifeguard in Newport Beach, Calif. With warmer weather and more people going to the beach in general, we’re seeing more stingray attacks, says Halphide.

Stingrays sit around like lazy teenagers, heads partially buried in the sand, chowing down on sand crabs, and moving only when the tide makes them. That means that on calm, warm days at low tide, Halphide is on the lookout for people hopping out of the ocean on one leg, wincing.

What to do: To avoid rays in the first place, do the Stingray Shuffle, says Halphide. Wiggle and drag your feet as you enter the water. Kicking up sand lets the rays know you’re coming, and they’ll skedaddle. If you still manage to step on one, there’s nothing you can do but soak your foot in superhot water until the pain eventually subsides. Lifeguard stations in Orange County have buckets of it waiting, with chairs. It looks like a lineup of people getting pedicures, says Halphide, “miserable pedicures.”

Skunks — Unfortunately, our odds of bumping into a beady-eyed, black-and-white-striped omnivore are increasing as we continue to horn in on their turf, with our trash, uncleaned grills, and lazy house maintenance.

Skunks have few predators, as coyotes, foxes, and even grizzlies know how to stay away. And so they scamper around, proliferating freely, their bushy tails poised for any threat: couples on an evening stroll, kids in the yard, dogs off the leash. Poor climbers and slow runners, a skunk’s only self-defense is its stench.

What to do: “Treat a skunk like it’s an African lion,” advises Mark Vargas of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Don’t startle it. Let it have its way, and it’ll mosey off.” If it doesn’t … you spray first. Hose it. Otherwise, once a skunk arches its back, lifts its tail, and starts hissing and stomping (spotted skunks do this impressive headstand move), you’re out of luck. With a 15-foot spray and impeccable aim, skunks can leave you nauseous, temporarily blind, and reeking for a couple of days; your pet, a couple of weeks; and your house, a couple of years.


Reprinted from LOOK BIG. Text © 2018 by Rachel Levin. Illustrations © 2018 by Jeff Östberg. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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