Parasites and Other Itchy Scary Things


Today’s blog post will be a comprehensive list of the parasites, animals and plants that cause humans to be uncomfortable during the warmer months. The minute it stops freezing and I’ve taken a hike in the woods, or layed in the grass for a little bit (a privilege I can enjoy only during the coldest days during the winter) I wake up to find my legs covered in red itchy bumps. If you’ve ever had a mosquito bite they look quite similar yet itch around 10x more, and for some reason arthropods love me just as much as I love them so I’m always the first to harbor the lovely chigger, a mite that loves the taste of humans. The itching lasts a week or two and there’s nothing that helps (clear nailpolish is a myth by the way), it just has to be waited out.

The second of the parasites are of course ticks. On Nisani Farm there are Lone Star Ticks, Dog Ticks, and deer ticks, some of which can be as small as a pin prick. From these kinds of ticks you can get lyme disease, rocky mountain spotted fever and Alpha Gal (a relatively new and increasingly more common protein mutation that causes allergic reactions to red meat after someone eats them, one reason why beyond meat burgers and impossible burgers have gotten so much more popular in rural virginia). To prevent ticks we have a daily regimen of tucking our pants into our socks before leaving to work outside, making sure the grass stays short near the house, and nightly complete body tick-checks. No one in my family has ever gotten lyme disease despite finding five ticks every day during the summer!

And parasites aren’t all! We also have horse flies that take chunks out of your skin, bald heads beware, mosquitos, and sweat bees who mean well but sting you when you accidentally squish them during the lunchtime meal of your sweat where they’ve crawled under your sleeve to indulge on.

We also have the dreaded poison ivy growing literally everywhere. Walking barefoot is never recommended. Poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, is a three leafed plant that grows a hairy vine that is covered in an oil that causes a rash on most people. If you think you aren’t allergic to poison ivy youre likely mistaken and/or lying. We have had interns who had to go to the clinic from severe poison ivy rashes after insisting it doesn’t affect them. To prevent the onset of a rash dish soap immediately does the trick.

And among the venomous there are snakes and spiders. A beautiful black widow spider lives in every pot in one of our high tunnels. We leave them there because we have never had a problem with them and they help with pests, we’re just mindful of their presence! Their beautiful black shiny bodies contrast with the red, and their ballet-like movements gracefully make webs. 

We also have brown recluse spiders of which I have never seen hence their reclusive title. They can cause a lot of damage if they bite someone, for example capillary damage. 

Lastly we have snakes. We have lots of non-venomous species like the Eastern Black Rat Snake and Worm Snakes, Carphophis amoenus, a small brown smooth snake that likes dark cool crevices like under logs and rocks. Among the venomous there are Northern Copperheads, Cottonmouths and Timber Rattlesnakes. They usually stay far away from people but I have encountered them while hiking in the woods and when a juvenile Cottonmouth found its way into the living room.

And although not completely harmful, skunks and their sprays are frequent, and nothing gets rid of the smell, not even tomato soup.

An Eastern Black Rat Snake emerging from the duck coop
An Eastern Black Rat Snake emerging from the duck coop

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