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Encounters With Nature

Nature provides the perfect setting for enjoying Missouri state parks and historic sites. The natural world, however, is home to a few plants and animals that could affect your outdoor experience. Here are some suggestions on how to make sure your outdoor experience is a positive one.

an illustration of poison ivy leaves

How to recognize it:
  • Poison ivy can be identified by remembering the phrase "Leaves of three, let them be!" Leaflets grow in groups of three off the vine.
  • Poison ivy is a ropelike vine that is green in summer and red in the fall.
  • The smaller side leaflets are lobed and often look like a child's mittens.
  • The center leaflet is on a longer stalk; the side leaflets look as if they grow directly from the stem.
If you come into contact with poison ivy:
  • Change clothes as soon as you can and wash exposed skin with soap and water.
  • Wash clothes, including shoes, immediately or bag separately from other laundry and wash when able. The oil from the plant causes the reaction and can remain active on clothing and footwear for up to a year if left unwashed.
Remember these tips:
  • The oil from the plant can also be transmitted on pet fur or in the smoke of burning poison ivy.
  • Avoid skin contact by wearing long pants, closed shoes and long-sleeved shirts when hiking.

an illustration of a snake on a trail

Missouri is home to 47 species and subspecies of snake. These snakes range in size from a wormlike 7 inches to 72 inches (6 feet) in length. Of these species, only five are venomous: the timber rattlesnake (in decline statewide), the western pygmy rattlesnake (southern Missouri), the massasauga rattlesnake (endangered species north central/northwest Missouri), the western cottonmouth (southeastern Missouri) and the Osage copperhead (common statewide).

Keep Yourself and Missouri’s Snakes Safe
  • The Wildlife Code of Missouri treats snakes as a nongame species, making them a protected animal and unlawful to kill
  • Be mindful of your surroundings - look before stepping over logs and rocks, watch for snakes basking in sunny spots or hiding in rocks or under logs
  • Learn to recognize snakes by their coloration, markings and size. Looking for head shape, pupil shape or belly scales means you are too close to the snake and could be bitten. For more on how to identify snakes, click here.
  • If a snake is encountered, allow the animal a clear path of escape and keep your distance
  • Often, people bitten by a snake were trying to either kill it or pick it up. Stay safe by remembering three simple words: Leave them be!

an illustration of a tick

Ticks cling to your clothing when you walk through any type of vegetation. They are most abundant in the spring and summer. The likelihood of becoming sick is slim; however, several illnesses are linked to bacteria that can be transmitted by a tick. For more information about ticks, click here.

Precautions You Can Take
  • Wear light-colored clothing so all ticks can be seen easily.
  • Wear long pants tucked into boots or socks
  • Apply insect repellent containing 20% to 50% DEET directly to exposed skin and clothing.
  • Check your clothes periodically for ticks.
  • Do a complete body check after you have gone through any vegetation.
Removing a Tick
  • Firmly pull it straight out with a pair of tweezers, grasping it as close to the skin as possible.
  • Use duct tape or other tape to remove seed ticks.
  • Clean the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic.

an illustration of a misquito at a campsite

Don't let them spoil your vacation! The recent concern about mosquito-born diseases should not keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Less than 1% of mosquitoes carry the West Nile virus and if the mosquito is infected, only 1% of the people bitten will become ill.

What precautions should you take?
  • Apply insect repellent to skin and clothing.
  • Wear light or neutral-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside.
  • Avoid areas of standing water that can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
  • Avoid using perfumes or fragrances outdoors as they are a mosquito attractant.
  • Limit outdoor activity between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

Most people bitten by a mosquito with the West Nile virus experience no symptoms, but some become ill three to 15 days after being bitten. Symptoms range from fever, headache and body aches to confusion, convulsions and in rare cases encephalitis or swelling of the brain. Check with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

What You Can Do at Home

  • Don't let mosquitoes breed around your home.
  • Eliminate standing water from flower pots, barrels, used tires, clogged roof gutters or water-holding containers.
  • Install or repair window and door screens to keep out mosquitoes.
  • Keep grass cut short so adult mosquitoes will not hide there.

an illustration of a raccoon and a skunk at a campsite

Help Missouri keep wildlife wild and yourself safe!
  • "Leave Them Be!" Trying to touch, pick up or kill wildlife is seen as a threat by animals and their first line of defense is to bite and/or claw to get away.
  • Feeding wildlife, intentionally or not, decreases their fear of humans but not their wild instincts. This can make encounters with humans more dangerous for the person and the animal.
  • Store food properly. Keep food inside secure locations, such as your vehicle. Raccoons and bears can easily open coolers.
  • Keep a clean camp. Use trash receptacles at your campsite or dumpsters within the campground to dispose of trash. To deter unwelcome nighttime visitors to your campsite, clean up all food debris and do not burn trash in fire rings.
  • For more information about bears, click here.

an illustration of a crayfish

Protect our waters by protecting our crayfish!

Crayfish go by many names – crawfish, crawdad, mudbug and more. Missouri is home to 35 species of crayfish, which represents 10% of the nation’s species. Eight of Missouri’s species can be found nowhere else in the world. Crayfish can be fun to watch in Missouri’s rivers and streams, but they are also critical to proper function of our many bodies of water. Invasive crayfish can out-compete native species, spread disease, hurt fishing and harm the aquatic ecosystem.

You can help stop the spread of invasive crayfish by following these tips:
  • Use crayfish as bait only on the body of water from which they came.
  • Do not release live bait crayfish back into the water.
  • If you purchase live bait crayfish, only purchase northern crayfish (Orconectes virilis) from in-state sources.
  • Missouri crayfish can make a tasty meal for fish and humans alike. For humans, it is important to EAT COOKED CRAYFISH ONLY. Live and raw crayfish contain parasites that can cause severe lungworm disease in humans and animals.