Be Prepared For Biting and Stinging Creatures in the Field

Spiders and snakes are among common threats septic technicians face when they open a system for pumping or other maintenance

Be Prepared For Biting and Stinging Creatures in the Field

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The most common animal we typically run into during service visits is likely a domesticated dog or cat, but this article focuses on some of the natural insects and snakes that we may come across during a service visit. While many of these encounters are harmless, others could startle or harm us while working around the septic system. Precautions should be taken to protect yourself and your employees.

A sting or bite is not only painful but the reality is that animals’ mouths harbor hundreds of forms of bacteria, which are transferred into the wound when they bite. It may take antibiotics and hospitalization to remove an infection, and in some cases, the incident can have lifelong impacts.  


Ticks carry several diseases that can impact human health. Ticks live in tall grass and wooded areas and are usually active during the warmer months, and peak numbers vary across the U.S. and Canada. Preventing tick bites is essential because such bites can transmit two common diseases. Lyme illness is spread by the bite of an infected black-legged tick (also called a deer tick) or western black-legged tick, which are very hard to see and much smaller than common dog and cattle ticks.

While many people are bit and never show symptoms, others are plagued with joint pain and swelling, fever and headaches. In the worst cases, patients end up with damage to the heart, liver and nervous system. Lyme disease can impact patients for the rest of their lives. Ticks also can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever with symptoms including rash, fever, muscle pain and confusion. If the disease progresses, it can damage the heart, kidneys and lungs, resulting in organ failure. Around 3% of all patients diagnosed with this disease die from the complications.  

Steps to prevent tick bites include:

  • Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • Pull socks over pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling up legs
  • Wear light-colored clothes to make spotting ticks easier
  • Use insect repellents that contain DEET or Icaridin and can be applied to clothing as well as exposed skin. Always read and follow label directions.
  • Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks and perform a daily check for ticks


Mosquito season depends on where you live, but they need above-freezing temperatures to survive. Most of us have experienced mosquito bites that are itchy and uncomfortable, but the real danger comes from being bitten by a mosquito carrying West Nile virus. Many people infected with West Nile don’t have any symptoms. But others may develop either West Nile non-neurological or neurological syndrome. West Nile non-neurological symptoms include headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, skin rash and swollen lymph glands that usually resolve within 3-6 days. West Nile neurological syndrome is a severe infection that can include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness and paralysis with long-term impacts. 

Steps to take to reduce the risk of mosquito bites include:

  • Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks along with high boots
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET, Picaridin or a similarly effective active ingredient on exposed skin
  • Eliminate sources of standing water, such as stagnant pools, ponds, irrigation ditches, and rain barrels, where mosquitoes like to lay their eggs

Bees, wasps, ants, scorpions, spiders

Being stung by insects such as bees, wasps and hornets may be especially painful and even deadly for workers who are allergic. If someone on your crew has a history of severe allergic reactions to insect bites or stings, they need to be protected from stings and should carry an epinephrine autoinjector and wear medical ID jewelry stating their allergy.   

Fire ants, which are part of the same order as bees and wasps, are another biting insect that can be irritating or even deadly. Fire ants are very aggressive and if their nests are disturbed, they swarm quickly and deliver painful stings that inject venom under the skin. After a sting, a burning sensation develops and can last from 30 minutes to two hours. The burning is followed by itchiness that can last up to a week. In rare cases, they can result in a severe allergic reaction. 

Scorpions usually hide during the day and are active at night. On septic system sites, they may be hiding under rocks, wood or anything else lying on the ground. Some species may also burrow into the ground. Most scorpions live in dry, desert areas. However, some species can be found in grasslands and forests.

When it comes to spiders, most are harmless, but brown recluse and black widow spiders are dangerous. They will bite when threatened, the female black widow will especially bite to protect her eggs. The bite can be serious and, in rare instances, deadly. Both spiders are nocturnal. They prefer dark corners or crevices, and warm, dry areas – like a control panel! They are commonly found in attics, basements, garages and storage areas. Brown recluse spiders often live in cardboard boxes.

Steps to reduce stings include:

  • Remain calm around the biting/stinging insect
  • Wear light-colored, smooth-finished clothing that covers as much of the body as possible and tie pants bottoms or tape them to socks or boots
  • Wear leather gloves and shake out gloves and clothing in areas with scorpions and spiders
  • Clean up the clutter that scorpions or spiders favor
  • Avoid perfumed soaps, shampoos and deodorants. And don’t wear cologne or perfume
  • Wear clean clothing and bathe daily


Snakes, poisonous or not, can surprise employees and result in injuries. There are over 100 species of snakes across the U.S. and Canada with 22 being venomous. Snakes are around all year, but are most active between April and October when warm weather brings them out to mate. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral and cottonmouths (water moccasins) are the four venomous snakes septic workers will most likely encounter.    

General precautions with snakes:

  • Remain calm around the snake
  • Watch where you place your hands and feet when removing debris. If possible, don’t place your fingers under the debris you are moving
  • Wear heavy gloves
  • If you see a snake, step back and allow it to proceed
  • Wear boots at least 10 inches high
  • Watch for snakes sunning on fallen trees, limbs or other debris


If employees are bitten by harmful insects and snakes, prompt first aid should be administered, followed by seeking professional medical attention. It is always helpful to note the color and shape of the insect or snake’s head to help with treatment.


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