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RVers, Listen Up! How to Escape a Jumping Cholla Attack

You don’t have to spend much time adventuring in the desert before running into a cholla cactus. They’ll let you know if you step too close to these cacti. 

Unfortunately, it can be a rather painful experience that you won’t forget anytime soon. However, you can’t start moving on and addressing the damage until you escape the grasp of this pokey pest of a plant.

Today, we’ll help you know what to do should you find yourself attacked by a cholla cactus.

Let’s check it out!

What is Cholla Cactus?

Cholla cacti are familiar sights throughout the American Southwest deserts. Twenty different species of these plants exist and are very good at adapting to environments and elevations. However, they typically thrive best in dry, rocky, and relatively flat areas.

Because of the variety of these cacti, they can vary in color and size, ranging anywhere from a few inches to 15 feet tall. While brightly colored flowers adorn them in the spring, they’re regularly covered in sharp needles.

While these fuzzy-looking cacti may look attractive from a distance, they’ll mess you up if you get too close. The needles on these beasts are extremely effective at protecting the plant. Trust us; stay away from any jumping cholla you come across during your adventures!

Jumping Cholla Cactus
A Cholla Cactus can quickly and painfully attach to someone with its sharp needles.

Does Cholla Cactus Really Jump?

Despite what its name might indicate, the plant doesn’t actually jump. The cholla cactus gets the nickname “Jumping Cholla” because of its ability to attach to someone with its sharp needles.

Typically, an individual gets stuck by a host of sharp needles, and the brittle arms of the plant break off in the process. The person is left with a chunk of cactus that seemingly jumped onto them and refused to let go.

So you don’t have to worry about the cactus attacking you out of nowhere while you’re hiking or exploring in the Southwest. If you keep your distance from these plants, they’ll leave you alone. However, watch your step and be careful while mountain biking or hiking; you may accidentally bump into a cholla and ruin your day.

Pro Tip: Use our Saguaro National Park Road Trip Guide to see some of the largest cacti in the world.

Can a Cholla Cactus Kill You?

While getting stuck by hundreds of sharp needles is nothing to take lightly, you typically have nothing to worry about once you remove them. The plants contain no poison, allergic reactions are rare, and deaths are practically unheard of. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some potential dangers associated with them.

In 2019, a former professional hockey player was stuck by a cholla cactus needle. He and his friends removed the painful object and went on with their lives. However, a week later, the individual found himself in the hospital with a potentially deadly blood infection.

What this man experienced was likely the result of bacteria getting into the wound which could have been present on the needle. The bacteria likely entered his body as he was removing the needle. So, unlike this individual, you should clean and treat any puncture in your skin as soon as possible if you want to avoid a potentially dangerous and life-threatening situation.

Cholla Cactus in desert
Cholla Cactus aren’t deadly, but they sure are painful!

What Do You Do When Stuck by a Cholla Cactus?

If you enjoy spending time in the desert, it’s good to know how to respond if you or someone with you gets stuck by a cholla cactus. Let’s take a look at a handful of things you should do if you need to remove painful, pokey needles during an adventure.

Take Action Immediately

It’s best to take action immediately whenever a cactus needle sticks to someone. The longer you wait, the more painful it’ll be to remove it from your skin. Also, clean the area as quickly as possible in case bacteria is on the needle.

The human body immediately begins to heal itself after it’s been damaged. As a result, the longer you wait, the more your skin and tissue will grow around the needle, which can be very painful when trying to remove it.

Since you want to get the needles out as soon as possible, you’ll likely want to stop your adventure immediately. Find a safe and comfortable spot along the trail and remove each needle from you or your fellow adventurers.

Wear Gloves and Use Tweezers

You want to protect yourself when removing the cholla cactus needles from you or another individual. If you don’t take the necessary precautions, you may end up with a wound yourself. Tweezers can help you grab the sharp needles and reduce the chances of poking your fingers. However, carrying a heavy-duty multitool with pliers is a good idea.

These tools can make it easier to grab one or more needles at the same time. Make sure you toss them far to the side and out of the way once you remove them.

Pull Quickly

Just like a band-aid, there’s no use in sugarcoating it when removing cholla cactus needles. The best and most effective way to remove them is to pull quickly. If not, you could partially remove them, or they could break off inside of your skin. Firmly grab the needles and quickly pull them straight out of your skin.

There’s no easy way to say this, but the experience won’t be pleasant. Is it going to hurt? Absolutely. However, the sooner you get the needles out of your skin, the sooner you can start treating the area stuck by the cactus.

Clean the Area

Once you remove all of the needles, clean the puncture area as soon as possible. If you have access to soap and water, thoroughly wash your skin to remove any bacteria or germs that could get into the wounds.

After your skin has been able to dry, apply some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage. It would be best to keep the area clean and dry to help with the healing process and reduce any chances of bacterial infection.

Monitor for Changes

After caring for the wound, you should monitor the impacted area for any changes. Be sure to seek medical assistance if you notice swelling or discoloration around the wound or if you experience a temperature, nausea, or other signs of a potential infection.

The wound will take some time to heal. Even after it’s healed, there can be general discomfort for weeks or even months. However, these types of situations generally have no long-term effects on individuals.

Pro Tip: Want to explore the desert? Check out these 9 Best Things To Do in The Mojave Desert.

Jumping Cholla Aren’t Your Friend

We can’t understate it enough that jumping chollas aren’t your friend. Therefore, you should keep your distance from them as much as possible. 

If these plants are in the area, it’s not the time to goof around. All it takes is one false step to lose your balance, and you could end up falling face-first into a cholla cactus. Seriously, it’s not something we would wish on anyone.

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