Since completing university in England, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian and freelance writer. He currently lives in Florida.
Below are my selections for the most dangerous animals in the USA. Before I list them, however, I think that I should make clear that pretty much all wild animals just want to be left alone and won’t present any threat to humans unless they are provoked, shocked or surprised, or if they feel that they need to protect their young from harm. If they know that a human is coming towards them, under most circumstances, they will attempt to escape.
The other important (and related) thing to bear in mind is that in most situations, it is humans who form the greater danger to animals, rather than the other way around. Animals can experience injuries and death through hunting and road kill, plus the gradual destruction of natural habitat can cause permanent damage to animal populations over time.
10 Most Dangerous American Animals
Listed below in no particular order are 10 animals found in the US that are capable of causing harm to humans.
- Coyotes and Wolves
- Bees and Fire Ants
- Wild Boar
- Sharks, Stingrays, and Portuguese Man O’ War
These reptiles can be found living in the southeast United States. They are normally pretty timid and in most cases will attempt to escape if approached. However, their skill at remaining motionless for extended periods and their ability to camouflage themselves can make it possible to stumble across them accidentally.
They are quick moving over short distances and have an incredibly powerful bite that is designed for cracking open turtle shells. Like most animals, they can also be aggressive if they feel that their young are threatened. You should always remain a safe distance from these large reptiles and never provoke them.
Also known as pumas, mountain lions, panthers, and catamounts, these big cats can be ferocious fighters and live across the Western United States. However, they do not see humans as prey, so attacks are extremely uncommon. Across the whole of North America, there have only been 88 recorded attacks and 20 fatalities since 1890.
The most likely reason that a cougar will attack is because the animal is starving. Juveniles who are searching out new territory can also be aggressive. The cat will attempt to subdue its victim with a bite to the neck. In the event of an encounter with an aggressive cougar, it is important to be loud and assertive - you should give the cat direct eye contact, make loud noises, and throw sticks and stones to scare it off. Do not behave passively, or try to play dead.
3. Coyotes and Wolves
Coyote attacks on people are extremely rare. These wild dogs are dangerous, however, and a pack of coyotes is certainly capable of killing an adult male. Coyotes are also able to mate with domestic dogs, producing “coydogs”, an animal which has the predatory instincts of a coyote, but none of the fear of humans that a wild dog has. More of a threat to livestock than humans, coyotes and coydogs should still be treated with respect.
Wolves can behave aggressively towards people but US numbers are small, although they have increased in recent years. It is important to note that they are naturally afraid of humans - so attacks don’t happen very often.
The two most venomous spiders in the US are recluse spiders and widows.
Despite its small size, the brown relcuse is the most dangerous type of spider, with a bite that can develop into a necrotizing ulcer, capable of leading to gangrene and permanent tissue damage, if untreated. This spider is also sometimes referred to as a “fiddleback” because of the violin-shaped mark on its back.
There are numerous species of widow spider that live in the US. The black widow is the most notorious, given its recognizable markings and the dangerous bite of the female, as well as her habit of eating the male after mating with him. Thanks to antivenom, the bite is not often fatal, however, provided medical treatment is sought out quickly.
There are around 90 different species of scorpion in the US., most of the population living in the South West, where the climate is hot and dry. Most scorpion stings are not considered to be life-threatening to people, although they can be extremely painful.
The most venomous type of scorpion is the bark scorpion, which can be found in states such as Arizona.
6. Bees and Fire Ants
Africanized honey bees, sometimes called “killer bees” are an aggressive types of bee that have come from the cross-breeding of African honey bees. They are spreading up through the south of the United States from the Mexican border. However, although there is widespread fear of killer bees, their sting is no more potent than that of normal honey bees and only one or two people die each year from being stung by them. They are easier to provoke, faster to swarm, and attack in bigger numbers than other types of bee, however, so should always be respected when encountered.
Another insect to avoid is fire ants, especially the Red Imported Fire Ant, the most aggressive species. These insects will bite and sting if they think that their colony or a food source is under attack. Their sting is intense, causing a painful burning sensation. A white pustule appears at the scene a couple of days later. Very occasionally, there can be an allergic reaction – if this happens, hospital treatment should be sought.
Bears have a ferocious reputation, but like other wild animals, they are unlikely to attack unless provoked, protecting their young, or starving. Usually they will run away, or stage mock charges. If you are unlucky enough to be attacked by a bear, you should fight back, not submit or play dead.
There are two main species to be found in the USA: brown bears (grizzlies) and black bears.
Brown bears (grizzlies) were once common in the US, but population numbers have declined and they are now only found in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming. Grizzlies are larger and more aggressive than black bears. They are especially dangerous because they have an exceptionally strong bite, said to be powerful enough crush a bowling ball.
Black bears are far more widespread and common than brown bears. Although they generally prefer to stay in forested areas, they can come into populated areas in search of food. Despite their name, black bears vary in color and aren’t necessarily black.
8. Wild Boar
Wild Boar (also called pigs and hogs) arrived in the USA as farm animals with the Spanish explorers. Some of them escaped into the wild, however, and developed into a feral population.
These wild pigs should be treated with respect as they are capable of being very aggressive, especially during mating season, or if they believe that their young are under threat. Boars will charge an intruder, usually to warn them off, but if contact is made, their tusks can cause serious wounds.
Despite fatalities from snakebites being extremely rare in the US, these reptiles still inspire fear. There are basically two categories of venomous snake that can cause serious harm, these are Pit Vipers and Coral Snakes.
Pit Vipers include Rattlesnakes, Copperhead, and Cottonmouth snakes.
There are 25 species of rattlesnake in the USA and Mexico, possessing bites that can be anywhere from mild to seriously venomous. Some rattlesnakes have bites that are capable of killing a human.
One type of rattlesnake in particular to watch out for is the Eastern Diamondback, which lives in North and South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida, and can reach 84 inches (2.4 meters) in length, making it the largest venomous snake in the US.
Another type to be aware of is the Western Diamondback, which inhabits an area from Arkansas to southern California, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and is also very aggressive, delivering a haemotoxic venom. The Mojave Rattlesnake lives in desert areas in the southeast, it is relatively short but delivers a powerful bite.
Copperhead snakes are another type of venomous pit viper that should be avoided. As their name suggests, they are copper in color. They rely on camouflage to keep themselves hidden from their prey, but this makes them easy to tread on by accident. Their bites are usually mild, but can be very serious in some circumstances.
Cottonmouths or Water Moccasins are aggressive, semi-aquatic snakes that live in the southeast United States and are capable of delivering a painful bite. They often hang around near water, where they hunt their prey. The inside of the snake’s mouth is white, hence its “cottonmouth” name.
Coral snakes are related to cobras. There are three species of them in the USA. Their bites can be dangerous, but they are shy and slow to bite, partly due to their biology which means that they cannot deliver a significantly venomous bite without waiting for a period of time while envenomation takes place. Statistically, most of the bite injuries caused by these snakes come from people deliberately handling them. Coral snakes can be difficult to identify if you don’t know what you are looking for, as their markings make them easy to confuse with other types of snake, especially Kingsnakes.
10. Sharks, Stingrays, and Portuguese Man O’ War
Out in the oceans, there are a number of dangerous creatures to be aware of.
Sharks have a ferocious reputation and are certainly capable of causing great harm, but it should also be noted that the number of shark attacks across the USA actually only averages around 16 each year, with less than one fatality every two years. The three most dangerous species of shark, responsible for the most attacks on people, are great white sharks, tiger sharks, and bull sharks.
In the Gulf of Mexico, there are numerous types of stingray which rest underwater on the sand and rocky bottoms. They won’t attack you, but if you stand on one by accident, they can strike with their barbed tails which inflict a poisonous sting.
Another sea creature to be aware of is the Portuguese Man O’ War. It looks similar to a jellyfish, but is actually formed from many minute organisms called zooids. Its venomous tentacles are capable of delivering an extremely painful sting.
The Most Dangerous Animal of All?
This may surprise some people, but my vote for the most dangerous animal in the USA, in terms of injuries and fatalities, is not actually a wild animal, but a common pet.
Each year, it has been estimated, that as many as two percent of the US population are bitten by dogs, that works out at around 4.5 million people. Around 26 people are killed by dogs annually.
Pit bulls and Rottweilers are responsible for the majority of deadly attacks, but smaller dogs can be dangerous too, especially when it comes to babies and young children.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Paul Goodman
unnamed on August 18, 2020:
What about mosquitoes?
Yzan on March 13, 2020:
That dog above is abviosly wanting to play DUHHHH
nancy jarrett on January 01, 2020:
play dead with grizzly bears, but run, climb very high or fight back with black bears which would love to make a meal of you. the best thing is to make noise in bear territory and carry bear spray, or handgun for just in case the other things don't work. and yes dogs being habitualized and untimid of most or even being timid hurt more humans than wild animals, there are more of them living with or close to us.
Martelli Macomber on December 06, 2019:
I don't know where you got your info, but playing dead is often your ONLY chance of escaping a grizzly attack alive. That's a quick lesson you learn - along with real life examples where the tactic worked - when you move to grizzly country (in my case, northern Wyoming adjacent to Grand Teton National Park).
You can look up the details of an attack involving a couple from San Francisco visiting Yellowstone National Park a few years ago in which the bear killed the husband as he ran but let the woman be after she played dead (injured, but alive).
While young bears may mock charge, adult bears generally attack to cripple or kill and generally don't retreat until they feel they have eliminated the 'threat'.
You fight back with an adult grizzly and it's going to be a darn short one - and you aren't gong to win it!
Hayden Coombs on November 16, 2019:
Quote from a article that used facts rather than opinion- Wrong. It turns out that "other mammals," a bucket category covering everything from cows to horses to raccoons, were the most dangerous on the list, causing 1.7 deaths per 10 million people every year. (Other research has shown that most of the deaths in this category involve farm animals like cows and horses.) Hornets, wasps, and bees were slightly less deadly (1.4), and dogs came in next at 0.8.’ (Per the CDC)
Michael Hartsook on October 20, 2019:
Like you said main reason most people get bitten by a snake is by handling them or trying to catch one, I was born and raised in east Tennessee and still live here. Growing up I used to catch snakes all the time in the woods and wetlands plus there was a creek that ran through the neighborhood and i caught water snakes non venomous one,s.i caught black rat snakes corn, snakes garter snakes and caught a copperhead, or two, i had got bitten a time or two by a black rat snake and a Garter snake which was my fault every snake I caught I would turn them loose and not harm them, back in September of 2007,i was in the mountains and was trying to catch a copperhead and got bitten on the thumb when it bit,me it didn't hurt but after my hand swelled up it hurt all the way from my hand to my elbow, i spent 24 hours in the hospital and the doctor said it was a dry bite heck i would have hated to see what a real bite was like I could see the venom on my thumb where the bite marks were on my thumb. That was my fault for trying to catch it.
Realist on July 14, 2019:
The most dangerous animal in North America are humans; just ask the people in Chicago!
unnessecary name on February 01, 2019:
thanks! this really helped out for my presentation!! I can't believe the most dangerous animal as in the one that kills the most are dogs!!
gjdkfdjsf on July 27, 2015:
i cant believe that a beloved pet is the most dangerous animal in the US
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on February 07, 2014:
Well written hub with some good advice on how to protect yourself. I enjoyed reading this. Voted up.