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Red Touch Yella

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One of the features of Texas that our family enjoys is the abundance of trails and wildlife. Where we live, in a residential development bordered by a greenbelt canyon and a National Wildlife Preserve, the trails are used by walkers, runners, and mountain bike riders. And by little dogs who love to chase lizards, swim in the creek, and lay down stretched out in the tributaries which magically appear after a heavy rain. 

Usually, my walks with Bandit find me in front with her dogging my heels, as though she’s thinking, “If there’s any danger, you’ll discover it first.” She stops every time I do, with her front paw suspended in the air and her ears alert, and then she moves on with me, a step behind. Fortunately, that habit stood her in good stead just at dawn one morning as we made our way down the canyon.

A slight movement on the trail side caught my eye, and since I’m interested in flora and fauna I paused for a moment to catch a glimpse of something new. About ten feet ahead on the right, a slight movement parted the matted ground cover and a slender multicolored snake about as long as my forearm poked its head out and stopped. Tasting the air with its tongue, it moved quickly through the wet black walnut leaves to cross the trail and suddenly stopped when a beam of early sunlight touched its back, as though deciding to bathe in the sudden warmth of the new day. Both Bandit and I froze, me in wonder and Bandit in imitation. 

Bands of red, black, and gold shone hypnotically in the sunbeam, glistening like polished bracelets, urging me to step closer and touch the beauty where it lay. Then I remembered an old saying I learned ages ago from my uncle back East- "red touch yella, kill a fella"…and realized we were staring down a coral snake. I snapped the leash onto Bandit’s collar and took a step back, pulling her with me. The snake felt the movement of my step and quickly dived under the mulch on the other side of the trail. Bandit lunged but I short-leashed her and we moved furtively down the trail. 

That perfectly natural coincidence seemed like a close encounter of the third kind, but it happened so fast that I didn't have the notion of snapping an alien picture until it was too late. And who was the alien, me or the snake? When we reached the shallow creek Bandit splashed in the current, grinning and lapping the cold fresh water while I Googled the snake on my phone.

I discovered that almost all coral snake bites occur when the snake is being handled because, without fangs, it has to chew to deliver its venom. They particularly target the fleshy places between the fingers. Another fact revealed- many bites happen to small children, and now I understood why- even I had wanted to pick up the bright serpent.

Then it struck me that we run across coral snakes and other venomous creatures every day- all of us. They cross our electronic trails all the time. An unusual email from a friend with a link: “Check this out!”; an enticing text from an unknown person: “see what they’re saying about u on FB…”; a web search that yields a free offer that seems too good to refuse; an unsolicited phone call asking for personal information; an email from a bank or government entity demanding a payment, a fee, or back taxes.

Pick up those electronic snakes and you are likely to get bitten - and you'll put your personal information and financial life in danger. Use an ounce of prevention to avoid trouble:

• To protect your computer or laptop, install security software including anti-virus software, a firewall and spyware detection software.

• For any website, do not write down or share your log in credentials or any other personal information.

• Never send your personal or account related information via e-mail.

• Never provide personal information in response to unsolicited text messages, emails or telephone calls – even if they appear to be from a legitimate business. 

• Never click on links provided in unsolicited e-mails or text messages. If an email or text from a friend or family seems suspicious, don’t open it. Contact the sender first to verify its authenticity.

• Use the keypad lock or phone lock function on your mobile device when it is not in use.

• Only download mobile apps from reputable sources to ensure the safety of your personal and account information. 

Here’s the rule of thumb- if it looks like a coral snake it probably is. Don’t be enticed to pick it up. Remember, "red touch yella, kill a fella."

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Guest Monday, 21 April 2014
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