Healthcare, Mexico Essentials

Things Which Can Make You Say Ouch


Mexico is host to one of the most diverse natural habitats in the world.  Its flora and fauna are the fourth most varied and diverse on the planet, after those of Brazil, Colombia and Thailand.  To accompany this diversity, Mexico is also home to a huge variety of insects, arachnids, snakes and other wild creatures.

Most, with the exception of mosquitoes, will leave humans alone and, indeed, scarper from you unless they feel threatened.  However, when you’re traveling in Mexico, and particularly in rural areas, you may come into some contact with one of the many local species of creatures which make their home in Mexico.

Here is a list of the most common creatures with tips about dealing with them:

Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are particularly prevalent during Mexico’s rainy season (May to October) across Mexico’s coastal areas, as well as inland in the highland central and southern regions; although they maintain a near-continual presence in the humid jungle regions of southern Mexico. Insect repellent is vital if you are trekking outdoors in jungle areas including, for example, some of the archaeology parks situated in jungles—which means almost every ancient city site south of Oaxaca.  At night, hotels which have open-air windows may provide mosquito nets over the beds.  Mosquito coils (which burn overnight) are widely available; although some people dislike the odor and chemicals they expel and prefer not to sleep in a room where one is burning.  Natural mosquito repellent, called citronela—which is highly effective—is available locally at Mexican pharmacies (you’re never far away from a pharmacy in Mexico), and you can also buy the common name-brand repellents (e.g. “Off”) here too.

Snakes: Most snakes keep away from humans, although if you are trekking outdoors, caving, or driving across the open countryside, you may see some snakes in Mexico.  If you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by one, make a concerted effort to identify it (at least be able to describe it in detail) as this will help a doctor to administer an appropriate antidote.  A rule of thumb is that snakes with arrow-shaped heads are usually quite venomous to humans, and so you should be particularly mindful of these.

Scorpions: Mexico’s scorpions are not as deadly as those which are resident in the Middle East.  There are three colors in Mexico: black, brown, and light yellow.  The black and brown ones can give you a very painful sting, but are rarely life-threatening (unless you are very young, very old, or allergic to the venom).  The ones to watch out for are the light yellow ones; they are colloquially referred to as alacranes gueros. (Guero in Mexican Spanish means ‘light-skinned.’)  If you are stung by a scorpion (any color) seek help from a local doctor or local health clinic where you can be able administered with an antidote.  Like snakes, most scorpions try to keep away from humans.  However, being nocturnal creatures, they have a tendency to crawl into shoes and clothes overnight, so if you are in or near a (semi)rural setting, take the precaution of shaking out any clothes and shoes you may have left out overnight before you step into them the next morning.

Spiders: Mexico has a huge variety of spiders; some are venomous and some not.  Tarantulas are very common here, and look scary, but are mostly benign to humans.  There are three venomous spiders in Mexico which are worth a mention here: The ‘Black Widow‘, the Brown Recluse (also known as a ‘Fiddle-back’ due it’s fiddle-like shape), and the Hobo spiders. These three are very venomous to humans and can cause severe pain, disfigurement in the bite area, and in some cases can even be fatal. The advice for spiders is the same as that for scorpions: check clothes and shoes before you put them on each morning; also beware of picking up rocks or other objects in the wild outdoors with your bare hands, as spiders tend to rest or nest in these places.

Jellyfish: Every ocean world-wide is home to some species of jellyfish (cold and warm waters), and this includes Mexico’s ocean waters on both the Pacific and Gulf coasts.  Jellyfish look graceful in the water; when they are washed-up on to the beach they look like jelly blobs: beware, as wet jellies on the beach can sting.  They can range in size from an inch to a couple of hundred feet in length.  Less than half of all jellyfish harbor a poison which is dangerous to humans.  Notwithstanding this, the stings are usually extremely painful.  Getting out of the water is a priority followed by some immediate medical help, which may include the administration of an antidote in severe cases.  Some, but not all, popular beaches in Mexico will post signs about the presence of jellyfish (in Spanish they are called medusas).  If you are stung, the advice is to rub vinegar or isopropyl alcohol into the affected area: washing the area with water will make it worse.  The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are home to three dangerous jellies: Lion’s Mane, Portuguese Man-of-War, and the Sea Nettle.

You can learn more about health matters, including vaccinations and common health ailments, on the Mexperience guide to Health and Safety in Mexico.

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  1. Alain says

    I got stung by a jellyfish while swimming at playa del carmen… or rather, I think I was stung by some leftover tentacles that got caught on a rope that held a dock in place. I didn’t see anything even though I was snorkling and the pain seemed to begin when I brushed up against the rope. It was pretty painful, comparable to a series of wasp stings all in a row up my leg except that it continued to hurt for longer. The worst of it was about an hour, and then it was just a minor annoyance until the next morning, when the pain was totally gone. It wasn’t so bad that it ruined my day though. I was more excited by the experience than anything (as dumb as that may sound). I only figured out it was a jellyfish sting when I showed it to a pharmacist (thoughI had sort of suspected it) who recommended “afterbite”… which I only ever associated with mosquitos, being from Canada. I honestly can’t say if ithelped or not, but it made me feel better psychologically.

  2. juan says

    what baout puffer fish? took a picture of one that washed out on the beach, didnt know it was probably poisonous!

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