Wikimedia Commons/Clément Bardot
1. Grizzly Bears
Unlike the antics of Yellowstone’s resident cartoon bear Yogi Bear, grizzlies are no laughing matter. Found throughout most of western Canada, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains in the northwestern United States, these large brown bears can weigh more than 1,000 pounds, and stand at close to ten feet tall. Their extremely powerful bite force, and large size, make them one of the most dangerous animals in North America.
While bear attacks are generally rare, they have increased in areas popular with campers. The majority of bear attacks are the result of female grizzlies’ powerful “mother bear” protective instincts. One of the most well-known grizzly attacks was on documentary filmmaker Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard in 2003. The two had attempted to live alongside grizzlies in Alaska, but were later killed and eaten.
2. Arizona Bark Scorpion
If you find yourself traveling through the deserts of the American Southwest, make sure to tread with caution. Hiding under the rocks of this dry land is one of the most dangerous animals in the American Southwest, the Arizona bark scorpion. These tiny arachnids may look small, but the stinger attached to the end of their tails packs a powerfully venomous punch.
Scarily enough, these venomous critters have found the perfect place to take refuge from the sweltering desert heat: people’s homes. Every year, these deadly desert dwellers cause thousands of extremely painful stings, said to impact over 100,000 people a year. In the 1980s, the Arizona bark scorpions caused more than 800 deaths in Mexico,.
3. Great White Shark
The 1975 Steven Spielberg film Jaws made generations of moviegoers scared to even step foot in their bathtub. While the film took many creative liberties, the physical appearance of the celluloid creature was based off of a real shark species, the great white. This fearsome species is found everywhere from the sunny beaches of Hawaii to the icy waters off New England.
Female great white sharks can reach over 20 feet, and weigh close to 5,000 pounds. This shark’s size and power make it one of the most dangerous animals in the ocean. While rare, great white sharks account for most fatal shark attacks on humans according to the International Shark Attack Files (ISF). Sharks possess rows of dagger sharp teeth, which, combined with a powerful bite force, often result in their prey dying of blood loss.
4. Feral Pigs
Forget Babe, feral pigs are far from being adorable farm animals. Many scientists believe that the feral hogs seen across North America descended from Eurasian domestic swine introduced by European explorers centuries ago. Unfortunately, these highly adaptive and intelligent creatures have comfortably moved in –with devastating results.
Pigs are capable of eating everything from plants to small animals. Male feral hogs also possess tusks that can reach more than ten inches, which they can use to inflict severe injury. Not only do these porcine city slickers cause millions of dollars of destruction, they can carry many dangerous pathogens. Over 100 documented attacks have been reported, five fatal. As the pigs have made their homes alongside humans, confrontations have become inevitable with the increasingly bold animals.
Few animals share similarities with their animated depictions, but coyotes have proven that they are more wily, and adaptive, than any cartoon can describe. These generally shy members of the canine family have quietly moved into cities across North America at a rate that has astounded biologists.
Attacks on humans have been rare, but in 2009, the first fatal coyote attack on a human was documented in Canada. Researchers have noted that coyotes are especially drawn to small animals, such as cats and dogs. Some pet owners affix “coyote jackets” covered with spikes to their pets to prevent them from being maimed. As they acclimate to suburban life, more light is being shed on the possibility of them becoming a highly dangerous animal.
With a history of symbolic meaning, whether among native nations or in Western films, the rattlesnake is considered one of the most dangerous animals in North America. This venomous snake is found across the continent, with most species living in the Southwest.
Rattlesnakes possess a tissue-destroying hemotoxic venom, which they inject into their prey using their long fangs. Every year, their bites land almost 8,000 Americans in the hospital, and kill an estimated five. While these snakes do not actively hunt humans, they frequently bite for defensive reasons, such as when their homes are disturbed. Unfortunately, the snake’s coloring helps it hide and ambush prey, often leading to humans unintentionally coming in contact with it.
7. American Crocodiles
Taking a bite out of the list of dangerous animals in North America is the American crocodile. While alligators may steal the spotlight as the continent’s apex reptilian predator, this rarer species is even larger. American crocodiles are found across the Americas, but the Florida Everglades is the only place on the planet where crocodiles and alligators coexist.
Unlike their Australian and African Nile relatives, the American crocodile is much shyer, and less likely to attack humans. While attacks have been rare, these crocs made headlines in 2014, when one attacked a couple swimming in a canal in Coral Gables, Florida. The attack was considered the first documented case of an attack by a wild crocodile in Florida. Since the attack, more sightings of the giant reptile have occurred, suggesting that populations are moving north.
8. Brown Recluse Spiders
One of the more common arachnids crawling around homes across North America is the brown recluse spider, it is also one of the most dangerous. This itsy bitsy spider packs ton of venom, making it one of the most dangerous animals on the continent. Smaller than a quarter, and lurking in the nooks and crannies of homes, brown recluse bites are one of the most common spider bites that send people to the hospital.
The venom of the spider contains a powerful enzyme which causes skin tissue to break down. While this powerful toxin is useful for the spider to digest its buggy meals, it can cause severe damage, and even rare cases of death, to humans if left untreated. In 2014, more than 1,300 brown recluse spider bites were recorded — making most people want to rethink spring cleaning their attic.
9. Tiger Sharks
Stalking the shores of the warm waters off North America is one of the most dangerous shark species, the tiger shark. Aptly named after another deadly apex predator, the tiger shark’s body is lined with darker stripes. Nicknamed the “garbage can of the sea”, it’s not picky about where it gets its next meal. Everything from license plates to sea turtles have been found in their stomachs.
Their opportunistic nature often means that these sharks have no problem testing out a new prey: humans. Tiger sharks are considered one of the “Big Three” sharks most likely to attack humans, often with deadly consequences. They attack an average of three to four people a year in Hawaii alone. Capable of growing over 16 feet long, it’s no wonder few humans live to tell the tale of their encounter with this oceanic tiger.
10. Yellowjacket Wasps
More than just a nuisance to picnic goers, yellowjacket wasps can quickly turn a peaceful lunch into a life or death situation. These highly inquisitive and aggressive wasps have stingers loaded with venom, which they can use to sting their victim repeatedly. These sharp stingers can pierce through clothing.
Like most stinging insects, they are severely deadly to humans who are allergic, with just one sting able to kill a person within half an hour of stinging. Although rare, cases involving a person being stung to death by swarming thousands of yellowjackets have occurred. These wasps can build their hive in anything from tree trunks to mailboxes, and are fiercely protective over their abodes. Because they often make their homes in ours, confrontations are common.
11. American Bison
Charging into the list of dangerous animals is the American bison. Long a symbol of the Great Plains, this mammoth herbivore has also been a symbolic feature of Native American folklore and culture. While their historical range once spanned across the United States, excessive hunting and bovine diseases from domesticated cattle led to the species’ near extinction. Today, the largest herds are found in Yellowstone National Park, where visitors often flock to view these majestic creatures in real life.
While American bison are generally peaceful, it is important to note, however, that they can nonetheless pose a risk for the less-cautious observer. Bison can weigh over 2,500 pounds, and can charge at speeds close to 40 mph. Park visitors are frequently warned to not approach these behemoths, which have injured dozens of brazen tourists.
12. Black Bears
While black bears are smaller than other giant North American bears, these adaptable forest dwellers can still pose a danger to humans. Large black bears have been recorded weighing more than 500 pounds. Unfortunately for suburban homeowners, bear run-ins are becoming more common. As home construction encroaches into their forests, black bears have taken on a new identity as city dwellers.
Neighborhoods offer ample food sources, making an easy meal for hungry bears. Black bears have now been spotted in major cities, miles away from their natural forest habitats. Lured by the promise of food, these bears are also losing their fear of people, making conservationists worry. While black bear attacks are uncommon, they have increased as humans and bears meet in rapidly overlapping habitats.
13. Bull Sharks
Rounding out the list of “Big Three” sharks responsible for shark attacks is the bull shark. While bull sharks are smaller than the other sharks listed, they are often the most aggressive, and most common. These sharks are also frequently involved in shark attacks due to their ability to live in both salt and fresh water.
Bull sharks have been found swimming up the Mississippi River all the way to Illinois. These adaptable sharks get their name from their “bullish” and aggressive nature. According to the ISAF, their aggressive nature is responsible for more than a hundred unprovoked attacks on humans, although some estimations believe the number could be far greater. It is often believed that bull sharks were responsible for a string of shark attacks in New Jersey, which later inspired Jaws.
14. Africanized Honeybees
Although they can produce large amounts of honey, Africanized honeybees are anything but sweet. These temperamental flying insects attack in aggressive swarms. The species is a hybrid created by crossbreeding the East African lowland honeybee and European honeybees. The first sighting of these invasive species in the United States was in 1985 in Texas.
The East African lowland honeybee was originally imported to Brazil in order to increase production of honey. After escaping in the late 1950s, the bees have spread to North America. Unlike the European bees frequently used by beekeepers for their peaceful disposition, Africanized honey bees are much more defensive and aggressive. They’re known as “killer bees”, as they’re responsible for killing more than 1,000 humans and even animals.
Hikers, and those wandering outside eastern North America, may want to be careful where they step. Hiding in plain sight is one of the most dangerous animals on the continent, the copperhead snake. Perfectly camouflaged to blend into a forest floor littered with dead leaves debris, the copperhead is one of the most venomous snakes in North America.
Like other pit viper snakes, they are equipped with heat-sensing “pits” on each side of their head, which they use to accurately strike their prey. Copperheads are known to administer a “warning bite” when startled, injecting little or no venom at first. However, bites from copperheads can be extremely painful, and if left untreated can result in death.
The lionfish may have quietly entered North American waters, but its presence has caused a noticeable path of ecological destruction. Originally imported from the Indo-Pacific as pets for saltwater aquarium enthusiasts, many believe that the fish was intentionally released into the waters off Florida and the Caribbean. With no natural predators, the fish have extended their Caribbean holiday and have spread quickly.
Although beautiful, hiding under their ornate fins are daggers of a toxin which the fish uses to stun its prey. The venom found in their fin rays can affect the muscular system and heart, leading to extreme pain and even death. In South Florida, a hub for the dangerous animals, there have even been spear-fishing contests to try to rid the water of these finned foes.
17. Black Widow Spiders
Whether it’s the spider’s black body, etched with a blood-red hourglass shape reminding its victims that it’s only a matter of time until their venom causes death, the black widow is commonly associated with all things macabre — and with extremely good reason.
This tiny but deadly arachnid is found across North America. Their name is associated with their grisly habit of killing their mate after reproducing. The black widow has the ability to inject their prey with a neurotoxin, which can cause death. Over two thousand bites are recorded yearly. While these creepy crawlies don’t actively attack humans, they are frequently found in homes, increasing the instances of spider bites.
18. Mountain Lions
The African savannah is not the only place to spot big cats. Prowling through forests across the Americas, the mountain lion is considered to be one of North America’s apex predators. Over six feet long, and with powerful jaws and claws, these formidable felines are some of the most dangerous animals in the continent.
Known also as cougars, pumas, and panthers, these ambush predators typically feed on deer. Stealthy hunters, they have been known to silently pad behind their prey before pouncing on them. Because humans have moved closer to big cat habitats, dangerous encounters have become more common. In North America, attacks have increased, with dozens of attacks in California alone. The majority of fatalities have been as a result of attacks on children.
19. Water Moccasins
Commonly found across swamps in the southeastern United States, the water moccasin or ‘cottonmouth’ is one of the only semiaquatic vipers in the world. The strong swimming capabilities of the snake, which has even been found in the ocean, means increased chances of coming face-to-face with this slithering swamp resident.
The cottonmouth gets its name from the behavior they display when threatened, opening their mouths to reveal a white lining. The potent cytotoxic venom released by their fangs can destroy cells and tissue, requiring amputation. Bites left untreated can even result in death. What makes these snakes dangerous is not only the potency of their venom, but the fact that their coloring helps them blend seamlessly into the murky waters of their swamp habitat, eagerly awaiting their prey.
Once hunted almost to extinction, the American alligator has made one of the most memorable comebacks in conservation history. This scaly swamp creature has not only returned to its historical habitat, but has now begun to openly embrace the city life. Emergency response units frequently receive phone calls about the dinosaurian predator roaming golf courses, roads, and even taking a few laps in neighborhood pools.
In 2018, a woman was pulled to her death by a large gator in South Florida as she was walking her dogs. In May 2020, a woman approached an alligator in South Carolina, and was dragged underwater, where she drowned. As construction pushes closer into their habitats, these adaptive reptiles will continue to come into contact with humans, often with deadly results.
21. Fire Ants
An ant species that has caused homeowners’ skin crawl is the fire ant. These aggressive insects can quickly overtake a lawn, posing danger to humans and animals. Their fiery name comes from both their reddish color, and the burning sensation associated with their painful bites.
Fire ants not only bite their victims with powerful mandibles, but can inject a venom, causing swelling and even cardio-respiratory failure in severe cases. Fire ants have an impressive ability to withstand extreme weather; during Hurricane Harvey, which passed through Texas in 2017, floating colonies of the ants were found containing over 100,000 ants. With such large populations, any perceived threat can result in thousands of ants quickly attacking.
22. Coral Snakes
Remember: red and yellow kill a fellow; red and black, venom black. This old rhyme helps Americans differentiate between the harmless kingsnake, and this cobra family member. Slithering into the spot of the ‘most deadly snake’ in North America is the coral snake. This snake is both a ubiquitous, and deadly, part of the American ecosystem. The brightly colored snake is about three feet long, and prefers to live in rural habitats across the southern United States.
It is estimated that there are less than 30 coral snake bite attacks a year, according to the American National Institutes of Health. Coral snakes have shorter fangs, which makes it difficult for them to penetrate thicker articles of clothing. If bitten, it’s critical to seek medical attention: their powerful venom contains neurotoxins which can affect the nervous system controlling the muscles used to breathe. Without antivenom, respiratory failure can kill a person within just hours.
From fairy tales to horror movies, wolves have a long history of being associated with danger. While most of the negative reputation assigned to the canine is misdirected, wolves are powerful apex predators. Weighing up to 100 pounds, and hunting in packs, wolves are highly proficient hunters. Once on the brink of extinction, wolf populations have recently increased across North America. While wolves are generally cautious of humans, there have been instances of human-wolf conflict.
In 2010, a woman jogging in Alaska was mauled to death by a pack of wolves. Experts suggest that most attacks come as the result of wolves becoming habituated, losing their fear of humans, or due to rabies. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service recommends that people avoid “actions that encourage wolves to spend time near people”.
One of the smallest animals in the world is also one of the most dangerous. Ticks are arachnids found across the world, and are particularly common in warm and humid environments. These external parasites feed off the blood of various animals, including reptiles.
Ticks are commonly found on plants, where they wait for an animal to brush against it, hoping to catch a ride onto their next meal. Their powerful mouth piece lodges itself into its prey’s skin, where it proceeds to drink the prey’s blood. This blood-sucking parasite can not only rob its host of nutrients, but ticks are vessels for a potentially dangerous diseases. The tick that spreads Lyme disease is often found in deer populations that live close to humans.
Don’t let those doey eyes fool you. One of the most surprisingly dangerous animals is also considered one of the most adorable: the deer. With deer populations estimated to exceed 20 million, it is not uncommon to see the animals grazing dangerously close to roadways. White-tailed deer, one of the most commonly found species, is also the most frequent culprit in deer-vehicle collisions.
States like Pennsylvania and West Virginia are considered to have some of the highest rate of accidents caused by deer. According to the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, these types of collisions cause an estimated 200 fatalities yearly. In addition to being a danger to people on the road, deer are also a favorite host for disease-causing ticks. Because most apex predators are now endangered across North America, deer populations have been allowed to increase unchecked, resulting in disastrous, and deadly, consequences.