Wild Animals to Avoid in the United States

Here are a few of the United States’ animals that rank high on the “danger” scale. Most animals will go out of their way to avoid contact with humans, skittering or running off into the trees. However, just a little knowledge of how to stay safe can transform your reaction to how you perceive and encounter them. Keep in mind, too, that we are addressing wild animals. More humans are killed by dogs and farm animals every year than by wild animals. You are far more likely to be killed by a dog or a horse than from a spider bite.

  • Spiders


    No spider is trying to poison or kill a human, and if a spider bites a human, it is usually because the spider is protecting itself. The poison of spiders can indeed harm or kill humans. There are two types of poisonous spiders in North America. The black widow spider, found all over the US, can reach .5 to 2 inches long and has a distinct red hourglass shape on its solid black body. Its venom affects the nervous system. The more dangerous brown recluse, found mostly in the southeastern United States, has a bite that can go unnoticed yet will form a necrotic ulcer that can cause tissue damage permanently. There is typically less than one death per year attributed to each of these spiders due to advances in anti-venoms.

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  • Snakes


    Most snakes are harmless and only wish to go about their way to find food. Yet, caution should be taken until any snake is identified as non-poisonous. The two types of venomous snake in the United States are the coral snake and pit viper. Coral snakes are generally shy and will run from humans, and their bite is highly poisonous but rare. These are easily identified by the segments of black and red, separated by a band of yellow. Pit vipers, particularly the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, can be aggressive when they feel threatened. They also have excellent camouflage, which makes it easier to stumble upon their resting spot and possibly provoke aggressive behavior. Rattlesnakes, water moccasins and copperhead snakes fall into the pit viper category.

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  • Alligators


    Alligators are one of the most misunderstood animals in the wild. Found mostly in the southeastern United States, they often dive into water when approached by humans. However, caution is warranted when walking near water as alligators can remain camouflaged and motionless making the wrong step possibly provoke an attack. Stumbling upon a nest of eggs or young alligators may provoke an aggressive response from the parent alligator.

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  • Scorpions


    Living in hot and dry climates, the scorpions in the United States are primarily found in the southwest. Identification of species can sometimes be difficult, as 90 different species of scorpion exist in the United States. The stings from most species of scorpion will be moderate to extremely painful, without further complication. The bark scorpion, on the other hand, injects venom that can present serious issues in young children and older adults. Checking boots or clothing before they are donned, as well as camping gear, will prevent the majority of unpleasant run-ins with this insect.

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  • Bears


    Due to decreasing habitats, encounters with bears is on the increase nationwide. The black bear is the most commonly encountered. These animals can be curious, particularly when human food is involved, so securing food in the wild is important. The grizzly bear is typically not looking for an encounter, but its sheer size of up to 500-pounds can make for a fierce confrontation. However, the National Park Service estimates the chances of being injured by a grizzly bear are about 1 in 2.7 million. For the most part, avoiding black bears is simple, a matter of being noisy enough in the woods to scare them out of your way. Surprising a bear, especially if it has young cubs with it, can provoke an attack. Running from a bear may cause its predatory instincts to kick into gear. Waving your arms, slowly backing away is the best defense. Hikers in bear country are advised to carry bear spray and air horns.

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  • Wild Boar

    Wild Boar

    Originally found in Eurasia, wild boars were introduced to North America by the Spanish in the 1500s as a source of food. They are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, and a huge concentration in Texas (approximately 2 million). Ranging up to over 200 pounds. Adult males have sharp tusks and a top speed of 25 mph, these animals can be very aggressive during mating season and are best avoided. The population of wild boar is on the increase and encounters, especially with hunters, has increased. Never approach a wild boar. If attacked, climbing a nearby tree or tall object is your best option. Fight back with anything you have available to you, try to remain upright, and seek medical attention as soon as possible as these animals carry diseases that can infect humans.

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  • Sharks


    An animal that does not deserve its fierce reputation. Larger species of shark are more prone to attack if they mistake a human for another aquatic animal. Bull sharks, tiger sharks, and white sharks make up this majority of attacks. It’s best to not swim too far from shore and swim with at least one other person as sharks prefer solitary prey. Overall, the risk of being bitten by a shark is very low.

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  • Wolves and Coyotes

    Wolves and Coyotes

    The population of wolves in the United States before twenty years ago dwindled to much smaller numbers, though have increased significantly since. Their numbers are greatest mostly in the northern United States, but present very little threat to humans as they tend avoid human contact. Coyotes are found in most of the United States. They are primarily a threat to livestock, as it is very rare for one to attack a human. More often, a coyote will attack a pet. Yelling and waving your arms are the preferred defense as running may provoke an attack.

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  • Cougars


    Cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions, are found all over the United States but are far more common in the western and central continental states. They can grow up to almost 200 pounds, making the sight of them surprising - to say the least. They are rarely aggressive, though there are some circumstances where cougars will act this way. Younger cougars looking to stake out a fresh territory may show aggression. Starving or cougars with younglings can also act aggressive. It is recommended to be as loud as possible, and to appear larger by fanning out clothing to scare off these wild cats. Don’t run, but back away slowly facing the cougar.

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  • Bees, Hornets, and Wasps

    Bees, Hornets, and Wasps

    These insects cause the most human deaths in the United States, making up an annual average of 62. Temperament may vary between bees, hornets and wasps, but all of them can become quite aggressive when they feel as if their home is being threatened. Complications from this group of insects stinging a human vary from a sharp and harmless pain to a severe allergic reaction. Life-threatening conditions of an allergic reaction include hives, difficulty breathing, dizziness, weak pulse, and swelling of the throat and tongue. For those with a previous history of severe allergic reactions, it is best to bring an auto-injector of epinephrine (EpiPen) when going to enjoy nature.

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