Discover the 9 Most Dangerous (Deadliest!) Animals in Virginia

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: April 13, 2023
© Joe McDonald/
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Are there any dangerous animals in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, coastal plains, or Chesapeake Bay? Are there sharks off the coast of Virginia Beach? What about bears in the mountains? Are there any venomous snakes? What kind of dangerous animals are in the rivers that feed into the Bay? Was the World Record Catfish caught in Virginia? Are catfish dangerous? Let’s find out about some of the most dangerous animals in Virginia.

Are there dangerous sharks off the coast of Virginia Beach?

Are Sharks Mammals
Great white sharks can get to be 20 feet long and are some of the most dangerous animals in Virginia.

©Stefan Pircher/

Shark attacks are exceedingly rare in Virginia. There have been only five unprovoked attacks in the state since records were first kept in the mid-19th century. The last fatal shark attack happened in 2001 when a boy swimming off Sandbridge was bitten on the thigh. Another attack happened in the same area in 2010, although it proved non-fatal.

  • Sandbar sharks: Sandbar sharks can be found in the Chesapeake Bay and along the coast in summer and fall. Juveniles will gather in these waters, usually swimming the bottom looking for food like blue crabs. The juvenile sharks are 2-3 feet long and grow to be about 7 feet. They are the most common shark in this area but rarely attack humans.
  • Dogfish sharks: Dogfish sharks can be found in the lower Chesapeake Bay and along the coast. A smaller shark that only gets to be around 5 feet long. They swim in groups and can be found swimming in the muddy bottoms of the coast looking for food. Humans are not on their menu and dogfish are rarely involved in human-shark incidents.
  • Bull sharks: Bull sharks can grow to be 7-11 feet long and weigh 200-500lbs. Bull sharks can be found in the Chesapeake Bay and along the coast. One interesting fact about bull sharks is they are the only shark that can process fresh water and can live in both fresh and salt water. They are one of the top three sharks that do occasionally attack humans, but shark attacks are still very rare.
  • Great white sharks: Great White sharks are one of the most dangerous animals in Virginia. They do live off the coast of Virginia Beach and have been involved in attacks and fatalities along the coast. Great White sharks can get to 20 feet long and they are known to be aggressive. In September 2001 a 10-year-old boy was attacked while surfing off of Virginia Beach. His father tried to punch the shark and poke its eyes. He received first aid on shore but unfortunately, the boy didn’t make it. He was the first person in Virginia’s history to be killed by a shark. Authorities were uncertain what kind of shark it was but Great Whites are responsible for most shark attacks worldwide.

Are bears the most dangerous animals in Virginia?

Black Bear Population by State
There are 18,000-20,000 Black bears in Virginia. There has never been a fatal bear attack in Virginia.

©jo Crebbin/

  • Black Bears: Black bears are dangerous animals. They can be 400 lbs and have razor-sharp claws and teeth. Black bears are not as aggressive as grizzly bears but they can be dangerous. While there are not any Grizzly bears in Virginia there are several large populations of Black bears. There are 18,000-20,000 black bears throughout the state except for the NE corner by the Chesapeake Bay. Despite the high number of bears, there has never been a fatal bear attack in Virginia. Bears can be dangerous to pets especially dogs that may alarm a bear or approach one. Two dogs in Harrisburg, VA were attacked by a bear in two spate incidents back in September 2020. Authorities remind people to not leave out pet food and to have garbage in sealed containers to keep bears away.

Are there any venomous snakes in Virginia?

Will Cicadas Cause More Snakes
Copperhead snakes are the most venomous snake in Virginia, but bites on humans are rare.

©Suzanna Ruby/

Virginia is home to three venomous snakes. Over the past 30 years, there have been less than 15 fatalities from snake bites in the state. Most snake bites in the state come from copperheads.

  • Copperhead: most common venomous snake in Virginia, lives in forested areas and tall grasses, tan with dark brown splotches and a copper-colored head, 2-3 feet long
  • Timber rattlesnake: endangered species in the state, lives in the mountains and a small corner of southeastern Virginia, grey with black bands or all black with light markings, 2-5 feet long
  • Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin): only in the southeastern tip of the state, lives in marshy wetlands, black snake with faint markings and a white interior of its mouth, 2-4 feet long

Are venomous snakes the most dangerous animals in Virginia?

Venomous snakes are dangerous because their venom can cause pain, swelling, sweating, weakness, nausea, and vomiting. If you are bitten by a snake you should seek immediate medical attention. In the US, medical facilities have access to antivenin to counteract the effects of the venom. Although snakes are dangerous it is still rare for snake bites to be fatal. According to the CDC, there are around 7,000-8,000 venomous snake bites per year in the US, and of those only an average of 5 results in death. The best advice is to keep your distance from snakes and never try to pick one up.

What animals are in the rivers in Virginia?

Incredible catfish facts - Channel catfish
The average size of a blue catfish is 2 feet long, but some can get to be 5 feet and weigh 100 lbs or more!

©Ryan Somma, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

  • Catfish: If you have a freshwater aquarium you may have one of the popular catfish in your tank. The Asian Stone Catfish is one of the smallest with the largest ones only getting to 1.5 inches. Catfish have long whiskers that come out of their face just like cat whiskers. But what about some of the largest catfish? The Blue Catfish is one of the largest catfish species and it can be found in Virginia. The average size of a Blue Catfish is around 2 feet long, but some can reach 5 feet and weigh more than a hundred pounds!

How can Catfish be dangerous?

Besides their enormous size catfish are dangerous because they have venomous spines.  These spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins can stiffen and release quite a painful venom. Catfish are not aggressive and will not seek out humans but if you are fishing for one be sure to wear proper gloves and be aware of the positioning of these giant fish. If you do get stung remove any spines and treat the area with warm water to clean the wound. Seek medical attention if needed.

Was the Biggest Catfish ever caught in Virginia?

Yes! According to the Guinness World Record, the title of “Heaviest fish caught: catfish” goes to Richard Nicholas Anderson who caught a 143lb (Wow!) Blue Catfish at Kerr Lake, Buggs Island, Virginia. This record has stood for more than 10 years, dating back to June 18, 2011.

Summary of the 9 Most Dangerous Animals in Virginia

Now that you’ve seen what animals live in Virginia that can pose a threat to humans, here’s a list of the 9 most dangerous animals in the state:

Dangerous AnimalSize When Fully Grown
Bull Shark7-11 Feet
Great White Shark20 Feet
Black Bear5-7 Feet (Standing Upright)
Copperhead2-3 Feet
Timber Rattlesnake2-5 Feet
Cottonmouth2-4 Feet
Catfish5 Feet
Dogfish Shark5 Feet
Sandbar Shark7 Feet

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Rattlesnakes While HIking - Timber Rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnakes are highly venomous.
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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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