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List of summer dangers on Okinawa includes poisonous habu snakes

CAMP FOSTER — Okinawa is a haven for outdoor activities during summer, but also a place where some dangerous land and sea critters can put a serious crimp in the fun.

Take poisonous habu snakes, for example.

Habu are active year-round but the summer heat brings them out more, according to 1st Lt. Chris Kupka, with the Camp Butler Provost Marshal’s Office. He said his office has responded to more than 20 habu sightings on installations and in residential areas this summer.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher L. Sauro, with Preventive Medicine at Camp Lester, said four types of habu inhabit Okinawa:

Sakishima habu: Brown with a dark-brown zigzag pattern; grows to about 4 feet.

Taiwan habu: Resembles the Sakishima habu and grows to a little more than 4 feet.

Okinawa habu: White or yellow with an irregular pattern of black spots; grows up to about 6.5 feet.

Hime habu: Gray or brown with dark spots; grows up to about 2.5 feet.

To discourage snakes in residential areas, Sauro advises removing hiding spots such as woodpiles or rocks, regularly cutting lawns and trimming shrubs, and keeping outside lights on at night.

Kupka said other possible habu hiding places are playhouses and empty wading pools.

“Parents should always inspect these before their children play in them,” he said.

Sightings should be reported immediately to local military police, he added.

“Don’t touch it; don’t pick it up,” he said. “Keep eyes on where (the snake) is going so animal control can find it, but leave (the snake) for the trained professionals to handle.”

If bitten, Sauro said, “Do not attempt to make an incision or suck out the venom.”

Instead, keep the victim calm; elevate, immobilize and wrap a cloth firmly around the bite area; and immediately seek medical attention.

Another poisonous pest is the brown recluse, a spider which can be identified by a violin-shaped mark in the section of its body where its legs join. About the size of a quarter, the spider carries venom that damages tissue and requires quick medical attention.

“If at all possible, kill and take the spider to the physician for positive identification,” Sauro said.

The seas surrounding Okinawa also are home to many dangerous creatures.

The blue-ringed octopus, commonly found in rocky shallow pools of water, is about golf ball-sized but its venom can shut down the lungs and kill an adult in minutes, and, Sauro said, “There’s no known antivenom.”

It is dark yellow and has iridescent blue rings in its eye spots, which are said to glow when it is aggravated, Sauro said.

First aid for a bite is pressure-immobilization and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until medical help arrives, Sauro said. If the victim can be kept alive until the poison wears off, which happens after about 24 hours, there are no apparent side effects, he said.

Box jellyfish infest Okinawa’s waters from July to September. Also called the sea wasp, this jellyfish has a bluish tint and is almost transparent in the water. Persons who are stung should be taken to an emergency room for medical attention, Sauro said.

Other dangerous water creatures include sea snakes, cone shells, lionfish, marine catfish, crown-of-thorn stars and stingrays.

The key to avoiding stings or bites is to “practice the look-but-don’t-touch method,” Sauro said.


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