Discover the Deadliest Animals in Iowa

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: January 15, 2023
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Perhaps that is a stretch. After all, Iowa is not known for “Deadly Animal Encounters”! But there are a few animals in Iowa that people should be aware of and a few tips to stay safe. One area where accidents involving animals occur is on farms, and Iowa has lots of farms. In fact, 85% of Iowa’s land is farmed with more than 88,000 farms in Iowa. Corn and soybeans are the leading crops of Iowa along with being one of the top five states of pork production. Other animals that are farmed are cattle, turkeys, poultry, meat goats and dairy cows. Are any of these animals dangerous? What about venomous animals in Iowa, are there any? And you may not think of deer as dangerous, but car accidents involving deer are a huge concern and lead to injury and death. Iowa is ranked seventh as the state where you are most likely to hit a deer. Let’s take a look at some of these “dangerous” animals.

Are Farm Animals the Most Dangerous Animals in Iowa?

Working with animals, especially in a farm setting can be very dangerous. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Agriculture ranks one of the highest risk occupations with 574 fatalities in the U.S. in 2018. Most of these fatalities are due to machinery but a fair amount were due to interactions with animals, mostly cattle and horses. In a research effort between the University of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Public Health, they looked at the numbers between 2003-2008 and found that of the 2,334 deaths that occurred during the production of crops and animals (farmers) 5% (108 of those) involved cattle. These accidents happened most when people were working with cattle in an enclosed area (33%) and moving or herding the cattle (24%). Other farm animals like turkeys, poultry and ducks can pass along infectious disease. Iowa is also a leader in the pork industry and accidents involving hogs does happen, so farmers and their families and workers need to follow all of the best practices to avoid unnecessary injuries.

Herd of cattle in a field

Between 2003 and 2008, 108 people died in farm accidents involving cattle.

©Angusmclellan – Public Domain

Are There Any Venomous Animals in Iowa?

You might be startled by a six-foot-long black snake but you wouldn’t need to worry. The Eastern rat snake does live in Iowa, but it is not venomous. They are both good climbers and swimmers so they do get around. There are four species of snakes in Iowa that are venomous. The timber rattlesnake, which is protected in most counties due to it being considered threatened, can be found in the eastern and southern part of the state. The massasauga snake can also be found in eastern and southern Iowa. Prairie rattlesnakes which are greenish grey or olive are pretty rare in the state as are copperheads (named for their copper-colored heads). Although these snakes are venomous it is extremely rare that a bite from one would be fatal. In fact, in the US of the 7,000-8,000 snake bites a year only about five are fatal. We are fortunate to have medical facilities that are prepared with the best treatments for snake bites.

Massasauga hiding in leaves

Massasaugas are venomous and their bites are potentially fatal, but they are shy and try to avoid conflict.

©iStock.com/Westhoff

What Kinds of Bees, Wasps and Hornets Are Dangerous in Iowa?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “Among venomous animals, encounters with hornets, wasps, and bees resulted in the majority of deaths, with 60 per year.” The majority of these cases are when someone has an allergic reaction to the sting with the victim experiencing an anaphylactic shock where their throat swells shut and air is unable to get to the lungs. Seeking immediate medical attention is the best course of action if you have any concerns after being stung. Let’s look at what the differences are between some of these stingers:

  • Yellow jacket wasps: These wasps are black with yellow bands and are about the size of the tip of your pinky finger. They live underground or can live in the walls or in woodpiles. The problem with yellow jackets is they can sting multiple times and once they sting they let off a pheromones to let other yellow jackets to join them. So you could be attacked by a swarm of wasps.
  • Paper wasps: These are skinny with reddish or brown markings and can be found in a round comb under the eaves of your house, garage of shed.
  • Honeybees: Honeybees are the fuzzy yellow bees you may see in your garden or surrounding flowers. They eat pollen and nectar. The good thing about them is they can only sting once but if you do get stung by a honeybee you will want to check for the stinger since they are the only ones that leave a stinger behind. Instead of using a tweezers to remove a stinger you should gently scrape the site with a credit card to try to remove the stinger without releasing more venom.
  • Hornets: Hornets are actually a type of wasp but do not always have the yellow coloration similar to yellow-jackets. They can be black or black with white markings. The bald-faced wasp is a wasp you might encounter in the U.S.
Bumblee vs Honeybee - Honeybee

Honey bees can only sting you once.

©Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock.com

How Are Deer Dangerous and Are There Very Many in Iowa?

According to Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there are around 400,000 deer in the state. They carefully manage their deer population with hunting regulations. With that many deer however, there is a higher chance of encountering one. Which isn’t an issue unless you have one jump in front of you when you are driving home. For example, in Iowa in 2013 there were 5,964 animal-vehicle accidents with 322 resulting in injuries and 4 in fatalities. The statistics over the years have remained similar. Some of the best ways to avoid deer related accidents are to be extra vigilant at sunset (and in the fall) when they are on the move and since they often travel in pairs or small groups, if you see one deer on the side of the road be ready for more that may be crossing. This will make the roads safer for you…and the deer!

In 2013 alone, there were nearly 6,000 animal-vehicle accidents in Iowa.

©iStock.com/Ralph Navarro

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Sean OLeary/Shutterstock.com


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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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