Things That Bite


Like any forest, the Eldorado and Stanislaus forests have a wide variety of wildlife, insects and poisonous plants. While some wildlife and plants can be dangerous, with a little bit of awareness, you should have a safe, fun visit in the forests.

As none of the campgrounds have “bear-proof garbage containers”, here are a few accepted practices. For large animals like bears, mountain lions and bobcats, never keep food outside, and that includes leftovers and garbage. While you can hang it from a tree, that doesn’t keep them from coming into your camp for a sniff. The simplest way for most visitors is to keep food sealed and locked, and then keep it in your car (the trunk if you have one) when you’re not eating.

What to do when you encounter a Bear or Mountain Lion greatly differ. Please see the information below to see what to do for each type of encounter.

Bear Precautions:

  • Keep a close watch on children, and teach them what to do if they encounter a bear.
  • While hiking, make noise to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear.
  • Never keep food in your tent.
  • Store food and toiletries in bear-proof containers or in an airtight container in the trunk of your vehicle.
  • Keep a clean camp and store food and garbage immediately after meals.
  • Use bear-proof garbage cans whenever possible or store your garbage in a secure location with your food.
  • Never approach a bear or pick up a bear cub.
  • If you encounter a bear, do not run, bears will outrun you. Instead, face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible.
  • If attacked, fight back.
  • If a bear attacks a person, report it as soon as possible.

Bear Facts:

  • Can a black bear run downhill? Bears can run more than 35 miles an hour, and they can do it up hills, down hills or along a slope. To put that in perspective, that’s 50 ft/sec – more than twice as fast as we can run. In fact, a bear can outrun a racehorse over short distances but has little endurance.
  • Can a bear climb a tree? Sub-adult and adult grizzly bears can also climb trees. However, the ability of adult grizzly bears to climb trees is generally not considered as great as that of black bears. Black bears and younger grizzly bears, especially cubs, have shorter claws than adult grizzly bears making them more adept at tree climbing.
  • Do bears run slower downhill? The myth justifies this conclusion by saying that a bears front legs are shorter than it’s hind legs, so it can’t run downhill. This is FALSE. Bears can outrun you no matter where you try to run. They can run just as fast downhill as they can uphill.

More Info

The following information is from from noted Texas wildlife biologist, Raymond Skiles.

Do not — repeat — do not play dead. The worst outcomes occur when human victims do nothing, according to wildlife researchers. Unlike bears, who may attack people when they feel threatened, cougars pounce when they’re hungry. “You don’t want to play dead as you might with a grizzly bear. Mountain lions are predators, and if they attack, “they have decided to see you as food”.

  • Make yourself look big. Stay calm, face the lion and raise your arms to look as large as possible.
  • Give it a chance to leave. Never approach a lion that isn’t threatening you. Most big cats are calm and try to avoid confrontation. Back up slowly and be sure to give it a way to escape.
  • Don’t run away, which may trigger an attack from behind. Scoop up young children so they don’t panic and run.
  • If approached, get aggressive. Mountain lion attacks sometimes occur by ambush. But often the cat is seen and decides to stalk toward its intended prey (i.e., you). Try to look threatening — wave your arms, shout, scream. Says Skiles, a wildlife biologist at Big Bend National Park in Texas, “They’re easy to intimidate. You want to be the bad one on the block when it comes to showing them you’re not prey.”
  • Throw sticks and stones. If bluster doesn’t scare off the approaching cat, throw stones, sticks, whatever is at hand. Research has shown that assertive behavior on the part of the would-be victim — yelling, throwing objects, holding up your arms to appear bigger — can ward off an attack. “We’re so attuned to being passive and deferential to wildlife it’s sometimes hard to get that message across to people here in the park,” says Skiles. “We do need to demonstrate who’s in charge out here, and we’re the top of the food chain.”
  • Fight back. If the lion attacks, fight back with anything you can get your hands on. Skiles tells the story of a man attacked at Big Bend National Park: The cougar had him on the ground and was biting his leg. But the man managed to grab a rock and bash the cat in the head. “That did the trick,” says Skiles. “You need to stand your ground. You need to run it off. You need to use the instruments at your disposal.”
  • Report it. Afterwards, tell the police, park service and fish and game about the incident immediately. This may save other people the trauma of a similar encounter.

More Info

Bears & Big Cats

Black Bears, Mountain Lions and Bob Cats can be found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. While seeing one of these fantastic animals in its natural habitat is memorable, seeing them in your campsite, outside your tent is a memory most of us would rather not have.

What to do

  • Keep your food sealed & locked up
  • Including all garabage
  • Use your car (trunk) for storage

Rattlesnakes & Vipers

The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake calls the Sierra Nevada Mountains home. While not often seen in the campgrounds, they are seen throughout the surrounding forest, including in the rivers. Its adaptation to its environment, actually changing its colors and patterns to match the surrounding terrain, can make it very difficult to see,

Be Aware Of

  • Stepping over logs & rocks
  • Composting Vegetation
  • Keep an eye on the ground

While generally clear of campgrounds, you should always be on the lookout for snakes, and that includes in the water.

The area has a significant population of Rattlesnakes. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake can exceed 3′ in length, the longest recorded over 5′.

As these rattlesnakes mature, their color changes, nearing the ground color they habitat. This can make them difficult to see.

Always be aware of composting vegetation, never step over a log without looking and always keep your eyes on the ground. If you plan on hiking,  a set of snake chaps can be a good investment.

Be aware that startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively. There are several safety measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of startling a rattlesnake.

  • Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas. Wear hiking boots.
  • When hiking, stick to well-used trails and wear over-the-ankle boots and loose-fitting long pants. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
  • Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark. Step ON logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
  • Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim.
  • Be careful when stepping over the doorstep as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
  • Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
  • Do not handle a freshly killed snake, it can still inject venom.
  • Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone. Children are naturally curious and will pick up snakes.
Though uncommon, rattlesnake bites do occur, so have a plan in place for responding to any situation. Carry a portable phone, hike with a companion who can assist in an emergency and make sure that family or friends know where you are going and when you will be checking in.

The first thing to do if bitten is to stay calm. Generally, the most serious effect of a rattlesnake bite to an adult is local tissue damage which needs to be treated. Children, because they are smaller, are in more danger if they are bitten.

Get to a doctor as soon as possible, but stay calm. Frenetic, high-speed driving places the victim at greater risk of an accident and increased heart rate. If the doctor is more than 30 minutes away, keep the bite below the heart, and then try to get to the doctor as quickly as possible.

The California Poison Control Center advises:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Wash the bite area gently with soap and water
  3. Remove watches, rings, etc, which may constrict swelling
  4. Immobilize the affected area
  5. Transport safely to the nearest medical facility

For more first aid information please visit:

Be aware when walking under trees as the deer tick senses heat. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Apply DEET repellent. Upon return, check yourself for ticks and take a shower if you have one available. This is only a partial list. Please see the following information from the CDC and others.

Infected ticks usually don’t spread Lyme disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. The most common sign of Lyme disease is a round, red skin rash called “erythema migrans”, that spreads at the site of a tick bite. This rash can get very large, however, this “bulls eye” does not always occur. Other common symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue.
If treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease, victims generally recover quickly and completely. The antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include amoxicillin, doxycycline, or cefuroxime axetil.

Deer Ticks

Once only believed to be of concern in the Northeast, the deer tick population has been steadily increasing in the West, and the Sierra Nevadas have become its habitat as well. This new strain of the deer tick, the Western Black Legged Tick, has all of the dangers of the Eastern Black Legged Tick, mainly it also carries and spreads Lyme Disease.


  • The famed “Bulls Eye” is not reliable
  • Tuck in your shirt and paints
  • Throughly inspect yourself

Poison Oak

While not as scary to most as Bears and Big Cats, an encounter with Poison “Oak” can be painful and even dangerous. Poison Oak can hide under ground covering, wrap itself inconspicuously around trees and can even grow to the size of a small tree itself. Whenever you’re in the forest, be on the alert for poison oak.

Be Aware Of

  • The branches and roots of poison oak also contain the harmful oil
  • It hides under vines and in trees
  • May require medical treatment

A rash from poison oak is caused by an oil found in the plant called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all). When this oil touches your skin, it often causes an itchy, blistering rash.

Most people can safely treat the rash at home. However, if you experience severe symptoms, go to the emergency room right away.

Please visit the American Academy of Dermatology Website for specific details.

  • You have trouble swallowing or breathing.
  • The rash covers a large part of your body.
  • You have numerous rashes or blisters.
  • You experience swelling, especially if an eyelid swells shut.
  • The rash develops anywhere on your face or genitals.
  • You’re itchy all over, or nothing seems to relieve the itch.

Please visit the American Academy of Dermatology Website for specific details.

If you do not have the symptoms described above, the rash appears on a small section of your skin and you are absolutely certain that your rash is due to poison poison oak, you may be able to treat the rash at home.

To treat a rash from poison oak and help stop the itch, dermatologists recommend the following:

  1. Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. If not washed off, the oil can spread from person to person and to other areas of your body.
  2. Wash your clothing. Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.
  3. Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.
  4. Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
  5. Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
  6. Take short, lukewarm baths. To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local drugstore. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.
  7. Consider calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Apply calamine lotion to skin that itches. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream or lotion may also help.
  8. Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then, apply the cool cloth to the itchy skin.
  9. Consider taking antihistamine pills. These pills can help reduce itching, however use with caution. You should not apply an antihistamine to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.

If your rash is not improving after 7 to 10 days, or you think your rash may be infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat your rash and any infection and help relieve the itch.

Please visit the American Academy of Dermatology Website for specific details.

What Else to Watch For

It’s evident that an encounter with a bear or big cat is something to avoid. But sometimes size does not define the mightiest. Even after months of preparation by Teddy Roosevelt for his trip down the Amazon, guns and ammunition in tow, it was not the Jaguar or Anaconda that caused hardship, but those things he never saw coming.


Things That Bite - Tarantula Wasp

While insects are generally simply pests, some cause painful stings and some carry diseases, which in either case have caused many cancelled trips in the forest. Forewarned is forearmed.

The sting of this wasp boasts #1 in the U.S. for most painful! It gets to 2″ in body length with a 1/4″ stinger. As its name implies, the Tarantula Hawk hunts tarantulas which serve as hosts for their eggs. More Info
Mosquitoes are one of the original vampires. They love to suck your blood! They can also transmit diseases like West Nile Virus. The best way to protect yourself is by using insect repellent and protective clothing. More Info


Things That Bite - Ground Squirrel

While we all are likely to stay away from rats, be aware that those cute, furry-tailed squirrels are also members of the rodent family. Rodents can carry many diseases, including the Plague.

The Plague is a bacterial infectious disease that can be transmitted by the bite of infected rodent fleas. Since the Plague is bacterial, it can be treated by antibiotics. More Info
The Hanta Virus is a potentially fatal lung disease. People can contract the disease by coming into contact with the urine and droppings of infected rodents. Since it is a virus, antibiotics are useless in its tretment. More Info

In The Water

Things That Bite - Western Rattlesnake

You should never drink untreated water. Even fast running water can contain infected feces which can be dangerous to humans. Also, be aware that rattlesnakes will swim to reach their prey.

What you can’t see can hurt you! The microscopic Giardia parasite resides in human and animal feces. One of the most common modes of transmission is in untreated drinking water. Giardia causes Giardiasis, which translates to very bad diarrhea. More info
When in the water, be alert for snakes. Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes and most vipers can and do swim. Generally, they are after prey or are attempting to avoid predators. More Info