Potentially Dangerous Animal Encounters for Hikers in Ohio

Hiking can be a relaxing respite from the modern world or a physically taxing exercise that rewards hikers with scenic panoramas of nature. However, hiking also can present a variety of dangers, including unexpected interactions with wildlife. In Ohio, hikers should be wary of a few animal species, insects, and plants.

The northern copperhead is the most dangerous snake in Ohio and one of the most feared snakes throughout the Midwest. Even so, this pit viper’s bite is one of the least toxic of all venomous snakes in the United States. The northern copperhead makes up for its lack in potency in frequency, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recording more snake bites from northern copperheads than any other snake species. Fortunately, in many cases, antivenin is not required for a safe recovery.

Avoiding northern copperheads is a matter of attention. These vipers are nocturnal during the summer months but active during the day in spring and fall. They freeze when confronted with potential danger instead of quickly slithering away like most species of viper. This means that most bites occur when an unsuspecting human steps on or near a snake they did not see. Copperheads are well-camouflaged, so hikers must remain vigilant on the trail, particularly in the southeastern part of Ohio, where copperheads are most active.

If bitten, hikers immediately should contact emergency services. While waiting for responders, the bitten person should keep the wound clean and covered while holding the affected limb lower than the heart, which slows the spread of venom throughout the body. The use of tourniquets and the practice of sucking venom from the injury site are no longer considered advisable courses of action.

The female southern black widow spider is a much greater concern for hikers. In the event of a bite, individuals may feel nausea, cramping, and severe muscle pain. In some cases, the bitten person may experience difficulty breathing, which poses the greatest risk. Despite these serious symptoms, the last recorded fatality from a black widow bite in the United States occurred in 1983.

Hikers should be wary of black widow encounters in barns and wooden outhouses. Hikers also can find black widow webs under rocks and logs or cliffs. Shaded woodlands are another preferred home for the spiders. However, black widows are not aggressive and will bite only if they feel threatened, so even an unexpected encounter should be safe if the trespassers slowly remove themselves from the situation without disturbing the spider.

When it comes to potentially dangerous animal encounters, hikers cannot overlook unassuming animals such as the white-tailed deer. Deer pose a threat to hikers traveling to and from a trail — Ohio drivers have an unusually high 1-in-102 chance of colliding with a deer on the road. The state observes over 800 serious injuries and four deaths related to car accidents involving deer every year.

Other potentially dangerous animals for hikers in Ohio include the brown recluse spider, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, and the common snapping turtle. Nevertheless, even the snapping turtle, the most aggressive animal that hikers may encounter, avoids human contact whenever possible.

Robert S. Castellini — Active in Philanthropy