CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- It’s summertime which means we are more active outside, and so are some of the animals you may not want to run into. At the South Carolina Aquarium, they say the best way to get over a fear is learning more about it. So, all week News 2 is looking at the scariest animals of summer to dispel myths and talk about what to if you cross paths.
South Carolina Aquarium Educator Beth Demas says, “A lot of times people don’t even realize it, but they are probably out there swimming around with sharks and those sharks are leaving them alone and just swimming off.”
If sharks are so close by in the water, why don’t we hear about more shark bites? One reason is humans are not on their menu.
Demas says, “They are not out there looking to try to get us, to try to bite us at all.”
Another reason is sharks don’t eat very frequently.
Demas says, “A lot of people think that they are just constantly out there feeding and that’s just not the case. Here at the aquarium we actually feed our sharks just three times per week, and that’s actually more than they eat in the wild. In the wild they are only going to eat about once every 7-10 days, so they are not always out there hungry machines always looking for that next bite.”
The best way to avoid these sharks is staying away from their food source.
Demas says, “If you see bait fish jumping out of the water, that’s a good chance that there might be something going after them. If there’s a place where people are fishing a lot, that’s not a good place to swim because the fish are in the water and the blood from those fish is in the water, that’s where sharks might be too. So it’s really just about being aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe.”
South Carolina Aquarium Herpetologist Josh Zalabak says, “I think people are afraid of bats mostly because of movies and vampire bats, which actually aren’t even found in South Carolina. They fly and they’re kind of darty and that’s a little frightening for people I think.”
But don’t worry, out of the 14 bat species found in our state, none of them are out for your blood. The only creatures that need to be afraid are insects.
Zalabak says, “They all eat entirely insects. They are going to keep those bugs down that might be eating your plants if you have a garden, so they are extremely beneficial in that way. They are extremely beneficial to the agriculture in South Carolina because they are eating a lot of those harmful insects.”
And those bugs that are after your blood, like mosquitoes? Bats take care of them too.
Zalabak says, “Bats can eat hundreds of mosquitoes in an hour, so for that reason they are great to have around.”
He says another fear surrounding bats is rabies, and the myth that all bats carry the disease.
Zalabak says, “It’s only a very small percentage of bats that carry rabies, just call a wildlife removal expert and they will come take care of it. You don’t want to handle a bat. I know people sometimes have their cats bring them inside, your cat is probably vaccinated against rabies so your cat will be fine, but you certainly do not want to be handling any bats.”
Bats mostly live in wooded areas, but may try to make themselves at home in your attic, so make sure it is sealed up well.
South Carolina Aquarium Herpetologist Josh Zalabak says, “Alligators are extremely important to their environment. They are an apex predator, so if you removed them from our ecosystem, it would throw the entire food chain out of whack.”
Their prime food sources include raccoons, turtles, and birds. In addition to keeping these animal populations in check, alligators provide shelter for other creatures.
Zalabak says, “They dig these really cool burrows, or gator holes as we call them, in the winter to stay warm. Those fill up with water and keep them warm throughout the winter. When they leave these holes, a lot of other animals use these as a habitat or place to reproduce.”
He says humans are not the desired food source for gators.
Zalabak says, “The best thing you can do if you see an alligator is just to ignore it or admire it from a distance. They are not going to bother you. The only time an alligator is going to approach a person is if it has been fed in the past. So extremely important not to feed wild alligators, they start to associate people with food and that’s when accidents happen.”
Chances are you live near some body of water in the Lowcountry, and the best bet for keeping gators out is a sturdy wooden fence.
Zalabak says, “They are excellent diggers and pretty impressive climbers as well. If you have a chain link fence they can scale that pretty easily.”
Even though humans are not a desired food source for alligators, our pets are. So be sure to be cautious with your dogs around lakes and ponds, especially around dawn and dusk when alligators hunt.
South Carolina Aquarium Educator, Beth Demas, says, “Luckily here on the East Coast where we are, we don’t have very many jellies that will really pack a powerful sting, so most of the ones that you are going to come in contact with are ones that will have a very mild sting to them.”
She says it could feel like some irritation to your skin.
Demas says, “That sting is really important to the jellyfish because that is how it catches its food. It actually can paralyze or kill the fish, or crabs, or things like that that a jellyfish is going to eat.”
The best thing to do if you see a group of jellyfish is move out of the water.
Demas says, “Most jellyfish can’t actually, they aren’t very strong swimmers and they have to kind of go with the current of the water, so eventually they will just glide out or move on out. And then it’s safe to go back in.”
There is an old myth about urine being the best treatment for a jellyfish sting, but aquarium experts say that’s not true.
Demas says, “The best thing to do, hot water works as well, but really seek medical attention if you think it’s severe enough.”
And while they may seem like a nuisance and interrupt your swim this summer, jellyfish are necessary for the survival of a Lowcountry favorite.
Demas says, “They provide a really good food source for a lot of animals out there, especially sea turtles. There are some species of sea turtles that really love to eat jellies and for species that are endangered or threatened the jellies play an important role in providing them a food source.”
The South Carolina Aquarium says jellyfish can still sting if they are washed up on the beach, so even if you think you see one that is dead, it is best to keep your distance.
South Carolina Aquarium Herpetologist Josh Zalabak says, “People think that it’s weird that they slither around without legs. Some of them move really fast, I think that scares people. And I think it is that they think all snakes are venomous, which is not the case.”
In fact, out of 37 snake species in the palmetto state, only six are venomous.
Zalabak says they are pretty easy to distinguish from the non-venomous snakes.
He says, “All of them have a triangular shaped head. If you see that on a snake in South Carolina, it is probably venomous and you’ll want to avoid it.”
And those non-venomous snakes are actually doing your yard a service.
Zalabak says, “A lot of snakes main diet is rodents, so they are controlling a lot of disease by eating rodents. Also you don’t want mice in your house anyway, so you want a snake around because its going to keep mice out of your crawl space, out of your attic, they’re really beneficial in that way.”
This is why he says your motto should not be “see snake, kill snake”.
He says, “As long as you leave them alone they’re not going to bother you, they’re not going to chase you, and it’s really easy to avoid a snake if you see one.”
If you happen to see a venomous snake in your yard, herpetologists recommend you call an animal removal service. They say the majority of snake bites happen when people are attempting to kill a snake in their yard, so your best bet is to leave it to the pros.