Five of the most dangerous animals in the US

Ian Carroll

The great outdoors can be a beautiful place, but you don’t need me to tell you that. After all, that’s a big part of why we all love it so much. However, in the back of everyone’s minds, they know that there are plenty of dangerous animals out there too.


Although the world used to be full of deadly creatures with far more power than mere humans, these days the world is far tamer. These days we normally don’t face our own mortality, in the wild or the city. However, the fact is that there are a lot of animals still out there that are seriously dangerous or downright deadly.

And even though these creatures could kill you in an instant, that doesn’t mean we would be better off without them. The Earth’s ecosystems rely on predation to create natural cycles of life and death, growth and decay, and new and old. But even though it might not be best if these deadly animals didn’t exist, it’s certainly best that you keep your distance from them. Some are small, some are big, all of them are deadly.

So, here are five of the deadliest animals in the North American wilderness as well as what to do if you meet or are attacked by one.

1. Bears

Bears are one of the deadliest creatures out there. Photo credit: Yathin S Krishnappa

Bears are one of the deadliest creatures out there. Photo credit: Yathin S Krishnappa

Bears are without a doubt one of the biggest animals in the American wilderness. They are certainly the biggest predator, and although they are normally more concerned with sleeping or foraging berries than they are with people, there are still some things you should know. First, the difference between a grizzly and a black bear could be the difference between life and death. Grizzly bears are much bigger, much more aggressive, and much faster than their smaller counterparts.

How to survive a grizzly attack

If you come across a grizzly bear, hopefully, it’s far away. If you can, back away slowly without letting it notice you. Then, leave the area quickly. However, if a grizzly shows interest in you I really don’t know what to tell you. As strange as it sounds, running is probably not your best option.

If you meet a black bear, you can likely scare it off by being large, confident, and loud. It’s not uncommon for these guys to raid camp in the middle of the night. It’s usually not hard to bang pots and pans until they run off. Just be sure you’re not banging pots at a grizzly. A grizzly has probably never met any animal it couldn’t kill. Your frying pan is unlikely to make it reconsider that. Fortunately, grizzly bears really only live in a couple of regions in the northernmost US. Yellowstone National Park is definitely one of the most likely places to find one outside of Alaska. If you’re in bear country, be prepared, be educated, and don’t sleep where you cook or keep your food.

2. Snakes

dangerous animals

Rattlesnakes are definitely the most common type of venomous snake.

In the United States, there are sixteen species of rattlesnakes, and all of them can kill you. There are also a couple of types of coral snake and a few other deadly varieties of a viper. There is at least one variety of deadly snake in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii. Unlike bears, there’s just about no escaping the serious risk that snakes pose. What’s even worse, because they are cold-blooded, snakes like to sit around on hiking trails, curled up in places where you might not see them. Some of the best places for a rattlesnake to sunbathe are also likely places to sit down for a snack or walk while on a hike.

What to do if you meet a rattler

Although rattlesnakes do often give off the telltale rattle sound for which they are named, that’s not always the case. Even so, some varieties of rattlers can grow up to over seven feet long and strike at deadly speeds. Don’t be fooled by the popular myth that baby snakes are more venomous. In most cases, it’s the adults that strike with more venom, as well as more power and speed. Rattlesnakes are extremely poisonous. However, modern medicine has greatly changed the amount of risk you may face if bitten. If you’re far from help, snake bites are extremely dangerous. But if you can get to a hospital within one hour of being bitten, your chances of survival increase dramatically.

If you’re out in areas where snakes are common, be aware. You should know what types of snakes you might run into, what their common behavior is, and where they like to hang out. Be aware of where you step and where you sit. No matter what type of snakes live in your area, they will be drawn to warm sun on cold days and will be most active in the heat.

3. Mountain lions

dangerous animals

Cougars are smart animals, that’s what makes them so dangerous.

Being from the North Cascades, I grew up with frequent reports of mountain lion sightings or missing cats and dogs. And it’s no joke. Although coyotes and other animals are likely responsible for many such stories, cougars (mountain lion and puma are all synonymous) commonly kill small farm animals and pets in rural communities. The reason why many people don’t think of cougars right away is that they don’t kill many humans. In fact, they’re rarely even seen by humans. That’s actually a big part of why they’re so deadly and so terrifying. Cats are some of the most lethal predators on the planet, and they are certainly some of the stealthiest.

Cougars will often stalk their prey for miles before attacking or giving up the pursuit. It’s hard to say just what might be going through their minds while they stalk you. In fact, it’s entirely possible that you have been stalked by a cougar before and never even known it.

How to defend against mountain lion attacks

Don’t run from a cougar, you won’t stand a chance if you do.

Don’t run from a cougar, you won’t stand a chance if you do.

Although cougars can get pretty big, they rarely attack large prey, like a human. They are far more likely to go for smaller mammals, pets, or, unfortunately, children. It may sound like a horror story, but it’s true that cougars are far more likely to attack smaller victims.

One of the best defenses against a cougar attack is to travel in groups and stay together. If you are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to see a cougar before it attacks you, don’t run. These animals have a strong prey instinct and will almost certainly pursue and catch you. Instead, stand up tall, make loud, strange noises, and flap your clothing around. The larger and more unfamiliar you can appear, the less likely a cougar is to attack.

4. Crocodiles

dangerous animals

You can see the teeth sticking up over this croc’s lips when its mouth is closed.

Commonly mistaken for alligators, crocodiles claim roughly 1,000 lives worldwide each year. Alligators have significantly lower numbers. However, because alligators live in a much larger area of the US, they put up comparable stats nationwide. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference, crocodiles have pointed noses, and alligators have square noses. Crocs are also generally darker in color, bigger, and have the iconic toothy grin.

Much like bears, crocodiles and alligators fortunately only live in certain environments in certain parts of the US. You don’t have to worry about crocs in Maine. However, just like bears, if you’re from out of town a lack of education can put you at serious risk. If you’re from Oregon, you might not think twice before jumping in the river for a swim on your visit to Florida.

Fortunately, in the United States, crocodiles are only found in the southernmost reaches of Florida. However, alligators are common all along the gulf coast of the country. And just because alligators aren’t as dangerous, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them seriously.

If you encounter a crocodile or alligator

Not only can crocs grow to be much larger than alligators, but they are also much faster on land. It’s not uncommon for a tourist to think that these beasts will be slow. That’s a big mistake. However, crocodiles tire quickly on land and have never been recorded to run over ten miles per hour. So, if you have to, run. This is no grizzly, so just run! You should be able to get away.

dangerous animals

Hopefully, you never have your arm here.

If you’re bitten by an alligator or crocodile, strike for its eyes. They are the most sensitive parts of a crocodile or alligator. If one of your limbs is inside of its mouth, there is a flap at the back of every crocodilian’s throat that keeps water out when their mouth is open. If you can strike, or pry at this flap, there is also a good chance it will let go.

The best defense against crocs is to stay away from the water’s edge, to avoid dense underbrush where they may be found, and to remain alert at all times. Although alligators rarely strike in anything but self-defense, crocs have been known to attack seemingly without reason.

5. Spiders


This brown recluse or violin spider (Loxosceles reclusa) is a species of spider native to North America. – Author: Rosa Pineda – CC BY-SA 3.0

This brown recluse or violin spider (Loxosceles reclusa) is a species of spider native to North America. – Author: Rosa Pineda – CC BY-SA 3.0


Last on our list today is a much smaller threat. And although spiders may be small, they are every bit as dangerous as the bigger beasts on this list. In some ways, they are even more dangerous because many people are unfamiliar with which types are venomous, and where they are most likely to hide. Furthermore, because spiders are small, they are often hard to see until it’s too late.

In the United States, there are about 3,400 species of spider. Out of all of those varieties, only a handful are venomous, and there are only two or three that could kill you. Even these rarely do. Of all the spiders to be found in the United States, the brown recluse, the black widow, and the hobo spider are certainly the most dangerous. Although at least one of these spiders can be found in most parts of the US, the west coast and southern states are where you’ll find the greatest spider risk.

If a spider bites you

Even if you’re bitten by a recluse or a black widow, the risk of death doesn’t arise from the power of the venom itself. Instead, the risk of infection can be high and can result in illness and death if left untreated. However, that’s not to say it will be pleasant. I’ve been bitten by a brown recluse before. My ankle swelled to nearly twice it’s width, turned purple and black, and ten years later I still have a scar and a small depression in my ankle where my flesh literally rotted away. These things are nasty and very hard to avoid.

dangerous animals

Unfortunately, spiders like to tuck into warm, protected places.

The best defense against spider bites is to know where spiders live. If you have to spend time around them, keep your eyes peeled and be cautious. Most commonly, you’ll find recluses and black widows in wood piles, attics, abandoned buildings or basements. They like dry places and are often found near old or decaying wood.

That being said, if you’re in an area where they live, you might run across one just about anywhere. The scary part is they might run across you. I was unfortunate enough to have one in my sleeping bag when I was bitten. If you are bitten by a spider, seek medical attention immediately. Especially if you know, it was one of these three.

The most dangerous animals in the US aren’t wild

All of the dangerous animals on this list can be deadly. However, the truth is there are far deadlier creatures much closer to home. Domesticated dogs are responsible for around 30 deaths per year. Mostly all of these are attributed to pitbulls and rottweilers. Not only that, but over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the US alone. Now those are some serious numbers.

dangerous animals

Dogs are one of the most common and most dangerous animals in the world.

And it’s not just dogs that beat out all of the other deadly animals on this list. Humans are far more dangerous than all the rest combined. At over 15,000 homicides in the US each year, we are by far the deadliest animal out there. That’s doubly true if you look at us from the perspective of animals. Many species have gone extinct at our hands. Hundreds more are well on their way.

So, whether you are hiking in the woods, or walking in the city, keep your wits about you. You never know when you might stumble across a dangerous situation. Still, is that any reason to hide in your house? If anything, these statistics should encourage you to get out into the wild and away from people. After all, numbers don’t lie. Wild animals just aren’t as dangerous as we are.

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