By Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 15, 2023) — Many of the service members who live, work and learn at Fort Leonard Wood are not native to the Missouri Ozarks. For some, coming across a tick, spider or snake while training or exploring can be alarming — but being able to identify the creature and knowing how to avoid it can make it seem less scary.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50,000 cases of tickborne diseases were reported in the U.S.
According Dustin Moss, a wildlife biologist with the Natural Resources Branch of the Directorate of Public Works, there are three ticks that are common to mid-Missouri; they are the Lone Star tick, American Dog tick and Blacklegged tick, often referred to as a Deer tick.
Moss said adult ticks have eight legs with a body size ranging from about the size of a grain of sand to the size of a pencil eraser.
“Smaller ticks, often called seed ticks, are actually ticks in the larval stage, and they will only have six legs. They will develop the last set of legs after they have had their first feeding and moved to the nymph form,” Moss said.
He said ticks feed on blood from humans and other mammals. The parasitic arachnids will take a feeding from a host, then fall off without causing any harm to the human or mammal, other than irritation.
“Ticks begin to become a problem when disease-causing bacteria and viruses are transmitted from parasite to host,” he added. “For instance, ticks can transmit Lyme disease, southern tick-associated rash illness, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and Bourbon virus.”
Moss advised removing ticks as soon as possible.
“When removing a tick, try your best to use tweezers closest to the head because you don’t want to break the head off at the bite area,” Moss said. “A word of caution when you use tweezers — squeeze lightly, as you do not want to squeeze the tick’s body fluids into you. For this reason, I recommend acquiring a tick puller. This will ensure the entire head is removed without squeezing the body.”
According to Moss a visit to the doctor may be in order if the bite area does not seem to be getting any better or any unusual flulike symptoms develop.
Knowing where to find ticks and how to keep them off of skin is key to avoiding them, Moss said, noting ticks can usually be found in tall grass areas, weeds and wooded areas.
“Ticks will crawl onto vegetation and stand on one set of legs and reach out with the others with the hopes to grasp onto humans and other mammal that may be passing by. This is called questing. Anytime that you brush up against any kind of vegetation you could possibly collect a tick. This I why we encourage the self-check method after you have been outside,” Moss said. “If you are out and in tick habitat, use repellents, tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Limit the amount of exposed skin.”
Another type of arachnid that is common in Missouri are spiders, and, according to Jeff Pebworth, a DPW Environmental Division wildlife biologist, Arachnophobia — the fear of spiders — is the third most common of all phobias in America.
There are more than 300 species of spiders in Missouri, according to Pebworth. Some of the common spiders include common house spiders, wolf spiders, crab spiders, Orb weavers, jumping spiders, black widows and brown recluses.
“They are a major regulator of insect populations including many that harm crops, gardens and forests — and those that spread disease. They also serve as prey for birds, bats and other animals,” Pebworth said.
Pebworth said most species of spiders are not dangerous and tend to shy away from humans.
“Although almost all spiders have venom to some degree, there are only two spiders in Missouri that can potentially cause harm to humans. These are the black widow and the brown recluse,” Pebworth said.
Both venomous species in Missouri have distinctive markings, according to Pebworth. The black widow is jet black with a red hourglass shaped marking on the underside of its abdomen. The brown recluse is grayish brown with gray hairs on its elongated abdomen.
“The brown recluse has long, slim legs that are longer than their bodies. They have a violin shaped marking on top of their heart-shaped cephalothorax or head. This has led to some people calling them violin spiders,” Pebworth added.
Spiders are extremely common in all habitats throughout Missouri, according to Pebworth.
“They can be seen anywhere but may not be obvious because of their secretive nature,” Pebworth said. “There may be over 2 million spiders per acre in grassland habitat.”
Pebworth said deaths from spider bites in the U.S. are extremely rare and are usually related to an extreme allergic reaction to the venom or an immune deficiency.
“If you know that you have been bitten by a spider and are showing symptoms, you should visit your doctor as a precautionary measure,” Pebworth said.
Just like with ticks, Pebworth said the best way to avoid being bitten is to know where to look for spiders.
“Both brown recluses and black widows like to live in undisturbed places. In your home, keep areas like closets, basements and unused rooms clean and free of clutter where spiders may live. The same is true for outbuildings like sheds, garages, barns and other old buildings that are not frequently used,” Pebworth warned. “If you use clothes, towels or blankets from these types of areas, they should be shaken out to dislodge any spiders before use. Most importantly, try to avoid areas where either of these species is known to congregate.”
Not an arachnid, but equally frightening to some people are snakes.
“We have 43 species of snakes in Missouri and 25 species documented on Fort Leonard Wood,” said Kenton Lohraff, chief of the Natural Resources Branch of DPW Environmental division.
The largest is the bullsnake, which can be over eight feet long, and the smallest is the flathead snake, which is less than eight inches total as an adult, according to Lohraff.
There are many unique species with specialized adaptations, and they play a vital role in ecosystem function with unique niches, Pebworth said.
“Most snakes are carnivorous, preying on other smaller animals or invertebrates,” Pebworth said.
Pebworth said most of Missouri’s snakes are nonvenomous, but many may bite in self-defense. The ones that are venomous have a toxin and can inject it with their hollow fangs.
“On Fort Leonard Wood, we have northern cottonmouth — also known as a water moccasin, eastern copperhead, and we also have one record on a timber rattlesnake though they are scarce in this area,” Pebworth said.
The copperheads are very common around rocky wooded remote areas, and the cottonmouths are common around our streams, such as the Big Piney River and the Roubidoux Creek, he added.
“Caution and respect are advised. If you see one, don’t panic but give them space. Don’t harass them or try to kill them, that is when accidents typically can happen,” Pebworth warned.
Pebworth said anybody spending time outside should familiarize themselves with what a copperhead and cottonmouth look like.
“Cottonmouths have a distinctive white line across their face and swim high on the surface of the water, unlike nonvenomous water snakes. Copperheads are generally reclusive, non-aggressive and secretive, but can hide in sheltered areas and have unique hour-glass patterns on their bodies,” he said.
According to Pebworth, snakes depend upon the sun, directly or indirectly, to maintain optimal body temperatures.
“On cool spring mornings, they may bask in the sun on a warm rock. Snakes are active through the summer and early fall and may be encountered just about anywhere on Fort Leonard Wood where there is shelter and foraging habitat,” he said.
Pebworth said in the event someone is bitten, try to safely identify the species.
“If nonvenomous, treat with topical antibacterial as needed. If venomous, two telltale fang holes will be present, seek medical attention,” Pebworth said.
For more information, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website. The MDC has field guides specifically for ticks, spiders and snakes found in the Show-Me State.
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post more than 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission