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DANGER! Area flora and fauna should be handled with care
Poison ivy, which features three leaves, has hairy vines that can climb up trees. The leaves can turn a deep red in the winter. All of the plant – leaves, stem and vine – contain skin-irritating oils. (Air Force photo by Kelly Deichert)
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DANGER! Area flora and fauna should be handled with care

Posted 5/4/2012   Updated 5/4/2012 Email story   Print story


by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

5/4/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- With mountains, lakes and the beach, Alabama outdoors have a lot to offer.

But those enjoying the spring sunshine should take steps to stay safe and avoid ticks, fleas, poison ivy and fire ants.

The recent mild winter will result in large bug populations this spring and summer.
"Unseasonably warm winters mean insects that go dormant for the winter stay active," said Bob Davis from the base environmental office. "It means insects will breed earlier than usual, supported by accelerated life cycles and warmer temperatures."

Davis and Jane McCarthy, the base horticulturist, recommend ways to stay safe while enjoying Alabama outdoors.

Poisonous plants
When it comes to avoiding poison ivy and poison oak, remember "leaves of three, let it be," McCarthy recommended.

These plants can be tricky, popping up in unexpected places. A reaction can occur from any contact with the oil, even if the oil is on a pet or clothes.

"All parts of it are poisonous, even in the winter time," McCarthy said. "The oils are on all parts."

Those exposed to the oil should wash their hands as soon as possible with soap and hot water. If the plant came in contact with clothing, change clothes. "Keep your hands away from your face," McCarthy advised.

People finding poison ivy and poison oak in their yards should be able to remove it easily. "This time of year, you'll see seedlings," McCarthy said. "Wear gloves and pull it out."

For plants with stronger roots, look for a chemical spray containing glyphosate.
"When we see the vines on trees, cut it so the upper part is severed," McCarthy suggested. "If it doesn't have roots, it will die."

Then spray just the plants at the base of the tree. Spraying the whole tree could seriously harm the tree.

"The most important thing is to read all the instructions," McCarthy recommended when using chemicals. Many sprays should not be used around edible plants and vegetables. Others shouldn't be used in areas where dogs or children play.

Angry ants
Fire ants are particularly dangerous since they attack in large groups and bite to kill, McCarthy said.

The best way to avoid bites is to avoid the mounds completely. "As soon as you kick the mound, the ants go into a frenzy and run," she said, making the angry ants more likely to attack.

"If you step on a mound, remove all the ants from your body, since they can move up your body real fast, so check all over for ants," Davis said. "Each person's reaction is different to a fire ant bite, from a little swelling around the bite to a trip to the emergency room."

The garden section of local stores will have products specifically designed for killing fire ants, and natural remedies may be available online. Again, McCarthy strongly recommended reading all directions before using chemicals and sprays.

Creepy crawlies
People spending time outdoors should keep an eye out for ticks, fleas and mosquitoes.

"Keeping your grass cut will help keep the tick population down," Davis said.

Hikers should wear long pants and check themselves and their clothes for ticks after spending time outside. Insect repellant will help, too, Davis said, recommending a repellant containing DEET when going outside at dusk to keep mosquitoes away.

Though the chances of contracting Lyme disease is low in Alabama, it is still possible. Visit for information.

Fleas can be a problem for both people and animals. "Fleas attach to any warm-blooded host, so they will attach to a human," Davis said. "You may see them anywhere your animal sleeps or sits in your house."

If fleas are suspected, Davis recommends placing a white towel near the person or animal, since white will attract fleas.

For information, visit

People also can take steps to deter mosquito populations at home. "To prevent mosquitoes around your house, never leave water in buckets, old tires (or) kiddie swimming pools not being used," Davis said.

Since feral animals can expose humans to harmful insects, Davis discouraged people from petting or feeding them.

"Feral cats and dogs are wild. You do not know what they might be carrying on them, fleas, ticks, (if they have had) all their shots and, most of all, (if they) will be vicious," he said.

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