Desert Insects / Animals
Special safety considerations must be taken when working on locations where various desert animals may be present. In Southern California, for example, we may find venomous rattlesnakes, scorpions, black widow spiders, and brown recluse spiders. Although the types of critters may vary from region to region, basic safeguards should be taken to prevent serious injury or illness to cast and crew members.
“Animal awareness” starts during the search for locations. Consider safety precautions when evaluating a location that may contain desert insects / animals, including identifying the type(s) of insect / animals present and the location of nearby hospitals or medical facilities.
It is also your responsibility to assure the safety of the desert insects / animals in the filming area, and to provide for the removal of wildlife from locations. Any desert insects / animals that remain on the set are subject to American Humane Association (AHA) Guidelines and Procedures, including but not limited to:
- Section 809.1 if native animals are not to remain on the set, they must be carefully removed, relocated, or properly housed and cared for, then safely returned to their habitat after filming is complete. Only qualified and trained personnel should attempt removal of nests or hives.
- Section 809.2 a production may not intentionally harm and must take precautionary measures to protect nets, dens, caves, caverns, etc.
- Section 809.3 care must be taken to ensure that non-indigenous animals are removed from the area after the production has completed filming.
Animal actors brought to a location can be affected by other desert insects / animals; this could range from distraction to life threatening situations or the transmittal of diseases. If this is liable to occur, notify the professional trainer / supplier of the animal actors. If you have additional questions regarding the AHA Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, contact the Film and Television Unit at (818) 501-0123; americanhumanefilmtv.org.
General Safety Precautions with Animals
While working around desert insect / animals, it is advisable to wear long pants with the pant legs tucked into socks or boots. A good boot above the ankle will provide better protection. It is also advisable to wear a long-sleeved shirt, dress in layers and wear light colors.
Avoid heavy perfumes or after-shaves as they attract some pests. Apply repellents according to label instructions on the product. Applying repellents to clothing appears to be most effective.
In the case of bites or stings, serious allergic reactions are possible. Survey the cast and crew to find out if any of them have any known allergies so that they can take appropriate precautions.
If you are bitten or stung by a desert insect / animal, immediately contact the set medic or a medical facility. If the encounter with the desert insect / animal involves a life threatening situation, call 911.
Common Desert Insects / Animals
The following are some of the more commonly encountered dessert insects / animals on locations in Southern California:
- Ants: Special precautions should be taken when working around red fire ants to keep from being bitten.
- Ticks: If bitten, seek medical attention immediately. Ticks are known to carry many types of diseases such as tick paralysis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
- Scorpions: All stings are painful, however, very few are fatal.
- Stinging, Flying Insects (Bees, Hornets and Wasps): If stung, seek medical attention. People who are allergic should carry reaction medication.
- Africanized Killer Bees: Remember this type of bee is very aggressive and will attack in swarms. Extreme care should be taken if a hive is located.
- Mosquitoes and Flies: These insects can carry various types of diseases. Asian “tiger mosquitoes” have been found in the Los Angeles area and are known to carry dengue fever.
- Chiggers: Chigger bites produce blisters by irritating the skin. Use chigger bite ointment to remove the itch and promote healing.
- Black Widow Spider: They can produce painful to fatal bites.
- Brown Recluse Spider: They can produce painful to fatal bites.
- Pit Vipers (Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, etc.): Pit Vipers produce painful to fatal bites and do not have to be coiled to strike. For example, a rattlesnake can strike out for one half of its body length.
- Seek immediate medical attention.
- Attempt to note the time and area of the body bitten.
- Immediately immobilize the body part affected.
- Do not apply a tourniquet, incise the wound, or attempt to suck out the venom.
- Do not allow the victim to engage in physical activity.
Tips for Snake Avoidance
- Always look where you are putting your feet and hands.
- Never reach into a hole, crevices in rock piles, under rocks, or dark places where a snake may be hiding. If you need to turn over rocks, use a stick.
- Attempt to stay out of tall grass.
- Walk in cleared spots as much as possible.
- Step on logs, not over them so that you can first see whether there is a rattlesnake concealed below on the far side.
- Be cautious when picking up equipment, coiled cables, and bags left on the ground.
- Remember that rattlers are protectively colored (camouflaged).
- On hot summer days, rattlesnakes can become nocturnal and come out at night when you do not expect it. Care should be taken working at night after a hot summer day.
Locations that may involve the use of alleyways, beneath bridges, tunnels, abandoned buildings, or other structures, may involve potential contact with rodents. Rats, squirrels, and other rodents can carry various types of diseases, which can be contracted if bitten by one of these critters. In addition, their droppings or urine can contain the life-threatening hantavirus. Be alert and cautious when using these locations.