My sweet little dog, Princessa, was bitten by a terciopelo, a/k/a a fer-de-lance, about two years ago. The snake is a pit viper with hemotoxic venom that quickly entered her blood and attacked the muscles and tissue around the bite. As a result, Princessa has only one eye. At that time, her owner was my caretaker and couldn’t afford her treatment, so we stepped in with treatment by a local vet, Dr. Ana Christina in Tilarán. When the caretaker moved on, he left Princessa with us.
Now, what does that have to do with gardening? Terciopelos love gardens, especially those with ornamental grasses or high weeds (yes, we all let our weeds grow too big from time to time) or they may stray in from the neighbor’s fields. Young snakes are sometimes found on large leaves like those of the heliconia as well. Their bite is actually more dangerous as they are likely to inject more venom than bigger snakes. Their injection control is just not well developed.
This snake causes more deaths in Costa Rica than any other. Fortunately, it is found mainly below 600 meters (about 1,970 feet). But don’t let that fool you. Snakes cannot read altimeters. We live at 640 meters (about 2,100 feet) and we find a lot of terciopelos. Although most snakes will move away from you if disturbed, this snake is sometimes aggressive. Then there are those pesky little ones on the leaves…
Although terciopelos are mainly nocturnal, they are the reason I now wear boots whenever I go into the garden. I hate wearing boots. Boots are good though, as there are other things out there that bite. Fire ants, for example. And then there are the caterpillars.
Caterpillars are cute and often look kind of furry, but don’t let “cute and furry” deceive you, caterpillars can be dangerous! Those bright colors, fuzz, and spines are a warning to predators: “Stop! Eat me and die!” For us, it is “Touch me at your own risk”.
Caterpillar fuzz and spines can contain toxins that will cause anything from an annoying rash to serious swelling to death from brain hemorrhage. I read one post about a dead caterpillar found in a blouse just in from drying on the clothesline. Even dead, the venom caused a rash and swelling. Two caterpillars that are found locally are the hag caterpillar (for the hag moth, or Phobetron pithecium) and the puss caterpillar, a/k/a asp caterpillar, (for the moth Megalopyge opercularis). There are many more, of course, and I don’t touch any caterpillars, at least not without gloves. Since caterpillars are virtually everywhere, it makes sense to take precautions.
So, what to do? Shake out your clothes. Use gloves when you garden. Keep your eyes open for caterpillars and snakes. Wear boots. And don’t be fooled by “cute and fuzzy.”