Biting Beasties - The Perils of Working with Nature

Following an incident recently when a large (3') adder in my path, decided against the common perception that they are meant to be more scared of us than we of them and headed straight for me; it is perhaps sensible to advertise what can be dangerous to us in the trade.

'It is safe to put your hand down anywhere in the British mainland, without fear for being bitten' - I have heard this several times and know it to be utter nonsense. From the age of 8, when I was bitten by a slow worm, (yes this is true, despite what most people believe, these animals can draw blood, although I probably deserved it as I was heading into my parents house to place the unwitting animal in a position to scare my sister), I have throughout my tenure in land management been bitten by a series of creatures all of which are meant to be harmless.

There are though, some creatures well worth noting as a potential hazard: Obviously the adder comes high on the list, though rarely fatal, the bite will require a trip to the hospital. Once working in Cloanaig in Kintyre, an assistant, finally tiring of being unable to see what he was doing due to the cloud of midges, sat down and promptly put his gloved hand on top of an adder, fortunately the snake bit only into his glove but did not let go. this was the last straw - he ran down to the fore shore, stripped off and plunged into the sea. This would have been incredibly refreshing, but he happened to time his plunge to coincide with a passing 'lions mane jellyfish'. This was his last day with the company and I would not blame him if he is now sitting in an air conditioned office in a large city, filling in insurance forms with a huge smile on his face.

It is also commonly believed that there are no spiders in the UK which can bite and harm a human, the woodlouse spider would disagree with this and is responsible for many a rushed trip to casualty. Capable of piercing human skin, these small bright red spiders are commonly found in dry stone walls.

But another creature worth avoiding is the truly hideous, (I swear they based the alien in alien on these things), dragonfly larvae. When rummaging about with bare skin in the bottom of a pond, these beasts can open up their heads and shoot a huge pincer like jaw into your flesh, which is not only painful but will remain a sore bump for a long time. There is a story of a Countryside warden in Norfolk, who in an attempt to be very 'hands on' with a school group, tempted them all to roll up their trousers and rummage through the waterways of the broads - they started to drop like flies as the dragonfly larvae feasted on fresh Norwich Schoolchildren. A dragonfly itself, whilst beautiful, is not terribly pleasant when cornered.

There also seems to be a plethora of various other beasties that follow foresters, gardeners and landscapers around in search of a quick and easy meal. Every week a new lump, bump or wee rash appears on us to which scratching only makes the irritation worse. I was once told to smack myself hard to alleviate the irritation, but I am still unsure whether this was a joke, as it always raises alarm to any client when they peer out of their window to watch me busy slapping various parts of my body. The Clegg or Horsefly, which looks like a large normal fly, whilst wearing the uniform of an SS officer, will actually follow you from behind waiting for the perfect moment to nip you in that area, where the skin bulges above your trousers.

When your partners or indeed anyone else whinges on about what a great profession we are in and how easy it must be, this is another thing to add to the list to gain a wee bit of sympathy.

Views: 21


Pro Designer
Comment by Kerrie John-The garden design Co on April 8, 2009 at 19:10
You have my sympathy!

Last August whilst sitting in my garden listening to the fields being harvested, I was bitten/stung on my foot. Although a bit itchy with a small red swelling, didn't think much of it. Next day I was in Addenbrooke's hospital A&E with the leg the size of an elephants. Given heavy duty antihistamine and antibiotics with the advice that if the swelling didn't subside by the morning then I would be admitted for intravenous treatment.

The doctor had seen more of what I had, and it transpired it was from a harvest mite.
Comment by niall gibb on April 10, 2009 at 23:57
Cleggs! hand cutting golf greens or tees in summer is the worst, especially with shorts on and before you know it they have bitten. Also the great scottish midge! total nightmare

PRO Member
Comment by Graeme @ BGS on April 11, 2009 at 12:56
Well I caught shingles - swear I got off it one of my clients!
Comment by Sustainable Land Management on April 11, 2009 at 20:24
Nasty - actually nothing worse than turning up on site to find either staff or client suffering from some form of lurgy. Can't tolerate it myself, my biggest phobia is going down with a bug and many people, (who work in public industry), don't seem to realise the damage a few days off work can be financially.
Am I right in thinking Cleggs and Horseflies are the same thing?. Also I was once bitten by a small 6 legged leathery thing, with many joints, looked it up in all the books but no avail - but my god it stung. One fear is that with climate change a huge number of new nasties are starting to colonise the UK. I know that Scorpions are now almost naturalised now and heard a story from a friend that their family dog was killed after being bitten by a large spider in Torquay.
By the way on the 'biodiversity UK action plan - endangered species appendices' the great scottish midge is actually entered!!!!. I swear these wee bu***rs are spreading south in droves.
Comment by Susan Walter on April 11, 2009 at 21:46
Adders may be more aggressive in the early spring, during the mating season. Normally they will hear you long before you get anywhere near them, and disappear, but if you startle them, like most creatures they may bite as a fright reaction.

Horseflies and Clegs are not the same, although they are closely related. Horseflies do notlay eggs under anything's skin. They lay their eggs on pond and ditch marginal vegetation. Both Horseflies and Clegs require a blood meal prior to laying their eggs. Only the females bite. The males just swan about looking gorgeous sitting on daisies. The females are attracted to heat and carbon dioxide ie living breathing mammals. They prefer cattle and horses, but humans will do at a pinch. They are attracted to hot cars, and have a preference for grey vehicles apparently. If you are wearing dark clothing and sweating you are more likely to be bitten. Don't bother trying to swat them, they are designed to be swat resistant – it's all part of a day's work for a Horsefly.

PRO Member
Comment by Graeme @ BGS on April 13, 2009 at 10:02
Know extractly what you mean about wasps - Nothing worst than being up a ladder trimming a headge and hitting a nest or mowing over one on the ground - You soon learn to run fast!! :-)
Comment by John Honeyman on May 13, 2009 at 11:21
Like you all I have been bitten by most things (except adders and slow worms) the worst is the Scottish Midge. However I can still remember driving a tractor through a hedge whilst trying to remove a horsefly that had landed on my nose. Looking on the bright side if you were bitten by anything in australia you would be dead, and horseflies are easy to kill.

PRO Member
Comment by Kieran Ray on November 28, 2009 at 22:27
Count youself lucky one of the commercialestaes we look after has Pratts Bananas next to it! when we have hot summers you should see some of the spiders about. I havent been biten yet and hope im not. Had the bloody horse flys, ants etc. and evry year I get bit by something that I bleve comes from the soil when I do turfing in early summer.
Comment by Andrew Garner on November 29, 2009 at 0:29
I hate spiders. But if this rain keeps up its going to be jellyfish and sharks we need to look out for.

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