In the course of enjoying your collecting and pondside rambles, there are some basic things to remember about safety. Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Carry a cell phone. You will, almost by definition, be exploring bogs, muddy sloughs, deserted lakesides, and marshes where most people don’t go. Most humans head for sandy beaches which of course are dull places, entirely lacking in interesting features like leeches, slimy green algae, worms, mud, and water plants. These areas, though boring, ARE safe. If, on the other hand, you slip on a bank or lose your way in the marsh, there may be no-one around to haul you home. Forethought and preparedness are in order.
Marshes are wonderful spots full of mink, river otters, and other fascinating creatures. However, they often harbour other critters on two and four legs. I have wandered most of the obscure paths in the tall grasses and willow groves of Somenos Marsh, and now know where the homeless people of the area hang out.
Although I have never been bothered and prefer the company of most homeless people to some of my relatives, I am careful. My standard equipment consists of a stout hiking stick with a spike on the end, a large can of bear spray, a switchblade, and a telephone. A gun is not a bad idea if concealed carry is legal – I recommend .380 caliber or larger. The good old .38 pocket revolver is adequate in most cases. Choose a 3″ or 4″ barrel over a 2″ snub nose – the muzzle velocity is superior. Consider the Taurus Judge, a long-cylinder .45 caliber revolver loading either standard ammunition or .410 shotgun shells, used with #3 shot, as a convenient means of deterring either snakes or people – ideal in either the swamp or courtroom. In bear country (Alaska and Northern Alberta) the well-dressed protozoologist carries a short-barreled 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot as well as bear spray. Most revolvers will do little more than annoy the larger wildlife in such areas. Do not worry about wolves – they are shy, avoid people, and will not bother you. If you are a small female, a dog is not a bad precaution.
Be careful of snakes if they are prevalent in your area. Kentucky, for example crawls with copperheads and cottonmouths, the latter found close to water. In the tangled brush and tall grass of marshes and lake edges, they are almost impossible to see. In such areas, consider snake gaiters in areas where brush or grasses conceal the ground. They are available in many forms from a number of companies both in North America and abroad.
“You Can’t Depend on Denim to Keep Out the Venom”
(SnakeProtex Sales Slogan)
Also beware of concealed sinkholes hidden by marsh grass. Feel ahead with your hiking staff. On a rugged ramble along the edge of Richards Creeks, I dropped one leg to the hip in a completely concealed, one foot diameter, slime-filled sinkhole. I climbed out, covered in nasty stuff, but had I not been lucky, I could have readily broken my femur. This hole probably represented the collapsed roof of an old muskrat burrow.
Be prepared to have occasional encounters with suspicious property owners, neighbors, passers-by, or local police. I spend my best hours lurking in odd corners, often in the dark, on trails, near marshes, and at deserted ponds, boat ramps, and mud-holes. Most people in these areas have less-than-honorable intentions. I am still waiting to use the line, “Officer, I must confess. I was just trying to score some weed!” Carrying some cute rotifer videos on your cell phone may save you a night in the clink and will help you to be dismissed as an eccentric weirdo, but harmless.
If you are crittering in Australia, consider everything to be poisonous, including snakes, sea shells, jellyfish, tree pythons, and crocodiles, until it proclaims its friendly intentions and asks you in for tea. Crocodiles can run faster than you can, and have been known to tree experienced travelers or attack tents. Consult the locals – they are invariably friendly and helpful if a bit different (comes from starting out with convicts for parents and living in a place where most things, including the central desert, are trying to kill you). Watch out for dropbears.
Creatures that are not actively trying to kill you can nevertheless be a real trial – to wit, the mosquito, which can make venturing into boggy areas a miserable experience in summer. Mosquito repellent and long sleeves are a must under such conditions, and one may consider a mosquito hat or headnet:Remember also the significant list of mosquito-borne diseases; a swarm of mosquitoes can destroy a pleasant afternoon of swamp-wandering, but may also leave one with a long-lasting and potentially fatal souvenir- over one million humans die each year as a result one or more disorders off this list (American Mosquito Control Association site):
And finally, remember that most protozoa do better in water than you do, unless you are a good swimmer. The basic thing to remember about being around water is that you lack gills and have too low a surface area-to-volume ratio to last long on oxygen absorbed through your skin. Drowning makes good newspaper copy but is reputed to be an unpleasant way to end your protozoological career.
(Sanguinis: I feel sorry for vertebrates, especially those tottery bipeds. Their ability to regenerate is LAUGHABLE! If they knock off one of their silly appendages, it stays gone – no growing it back! So, biped humanoids, be careful with your stiff, jointed bodies when you are around large projectile weapons. If one goes off and knocks off your leg, don’t plan on growing a new one! This is why hydras live longer than humanoids – the latter are MISERABLY inefficient are regrowing new heads if they lose the original one).
The author would especially like to thank Ann Mccluskey of Orbost, Australia, for informing The Proprietor about dropbears. An enraged dropbear is a force to be reckoned with. Dropbears are one of few the bony (as opposed to slender, sinuous and graceful) species in which the male is more dangerous than the female. If you doubt the tendency of the fairer sex to want a snack after a romantic evening, just ask any male arachnid who survived Prom Night.
Sanguinis, September 2015
Bay County Online. “Mosquito Borne Diseases.” http://www.co.bay.fl.us/mosquito/diseases.php