School's out, the sun is shining — and danger is lurking around every corner. Well, not really. But if you aren't careful, kids let loose in the yard or park can find many nasty, biting, stinging or burning things to get into. Not to mention summertime's unpredictable weather patterns. Here's a countdown on what to watch for:
Slithery, scaly serpents slide through lawns and parks across the state. While you may not see them, they're everywhere, warns Lowry Park Zoo's resident reptile expert Dan Costell. Snake bite season (who even knew there was one!) runs from April through October.
Four common snakes here: The diamondback rattlesnake, the nation's largest venomous snake, is usually about 4 feet long but can grow up to 8 feet. It favors pine needles and debris heaps. The pygmy rattlesnake is its smaller, nicer cousin, and it measures only 1 foot. Its tiny rattle sounds like a fly buzzing. "Cottonmouth" water moccasins are venomous black snakes that live on land and sea. They favor water's edge for sunbathing. Coral snakes eat other snakes but will bite if startled. These grow to about 2 feet long and favor mulch and shrubbery. If you get bitten, you'll need five vials of antivenin at $3,000 a pop.
Poison ivy often hogs all the attention during dangerous plant talks, but some of the biggest threats are in and around your house, said JoAnn Chambers-Emerson, an educator at the Florida Poison Information Center.
Peace lilies are not as innocuous as their name suggests. When bitten, the leaves release calcium oxalate crystals, causing immediate pain. Wipe the mouth and drink something cold to stop the stinging.
Oleanders may be a garden favorite because they're drought resistant and easy to plant. But every part of the plant is toxic. Burning the plants also can cause reactions including vomiting, cramps, dizziness and seizures.
Teach your children not to eat anything growing unless an adult first approves.
Oh, and about that poison ivy. About 85 percent of folks are allergic to it and it can be found in wooded areas near and far. It causes a rash that can last nearly two weeks. Use calamine lotion and cortisol creams to fight the itching.
The buzzing from mosquito hordes can be annoying, but their bites can be more than irritating. To avoid the kiss of the skeeter, follow the four D's.
• Dusk to dawn: Mosquitoes tend to feed during this time.
• Dress smart: Wear light-colored clothing. Try to wear longer sleeves and pants.
• DEET: Although it has come under fire for being toxic and less than eco-friendly, DEET repellents are the most effective. Try oil of lemon-eucalyptus for a natural line of defense.
• Drain water: Mosquitoes love standing water. Females lay their eggs there. Stop the infestation before it hatches by keeping all wading pools, flower pots and buckets empty.
Ticks also pose a serious threat, carrying illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Ticks are found in wooded and grassy areas. Use DEET and tuck your pants in your socks. Check your body, especially under your arms and behind your knees, for ticks after hiking and gardening.
Temperatures can climb close to the triple digits here. Staying hydrated in the heat is key. Kids especially need to be reminded to drink. Heat exhaustion symptoms include cramping, fatigue, headache, light-headedness and dizziness.
Another heat-related danger is car-related deaths. In 2003, 42 children nationwide died from heat stroke from being left or trapped in a vehicle. Cars and trunks look like perfect hiding places to kids, but many can't get out once they get in. Leave doors and trunks locked.
Storm season is upon us as thunderstorms plague the area. The stretch between Tampa Bay and Orlando receives the most lightning strikes in the country. More than 2.5 million strikes hit Florida last year. Each flash of light packs a 100 million-volt punch, or about 10 million car batteries. Stay away from water, tall trees and open fields.
Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30. Parents should keep their kids involved in emergency planning by making a shopping list and running through "pretend" scenarios. Find your evacuation zone and make a family plan. Check out more tips at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency.
Dr. Gregory Gaar is the medical director of Tampa General Hospital's pediatric emergency center. He sees firsthand the frequency and kinds of injuries children can get. July is the deadliest month, he said, as kids become daredevils with extra freedom. Drowning is the biggest threat. In Florida, the number of kids who drown every year would fill four classrooms. Nationally, there are about 10 drownings a day. One in four involves a child younger than 14. Make sure pool gates and doors are secured. Learn CPR.
Gaar said his doctors and nurses see scores of children with fish hook injuries. Also common are cuts on the feet from barnacles on boats.
Tumbles on the playground and from bicycles and skateboards also go up in the summer. Make sure children wear helmets and pads. And don't forget the sunblock.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lowry Park Zoo, Pinellas County Emergency Management, Pinellas County Mosquito Control, Florida Poison Information Center, Florida Botanical Gardens, Tampa General Hospital, Miami-Dade Antivenin Unit