In the United States, 7,000-8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year, with 5 of those leading to death. However, there are 0…that’s right, 0 snake bite incidents in Alaska. How can that be? Well, as we’ll see shortly, there is little reason to be afraid of snakes in Alaska!
The state doesn’t have any lizards or freshwater turtles either (not that turtles are known to be deadly!). The harsh winter climates are just too rough for these reptiles. However, Alaska does have plenty of other dangerous animals. It is unlikely you would run into a polar bear on your way to the mailbox or a grizzly at the neighborhood park. But bears, wolves, and moose have attacked people in Alaska sometimes with deadly results.
What you may not think of when you hear “deadly animals” is dogs, but unfortunately Alaska has one of the highest rates of dog-related fatalities especially for young children. Several non-profits are fighting to change the risks associated with aggressive dogs, hoping to make deaths caused by dogs a thing of the past. Let’s look at some of the wild animals in Alaska that may pose a risk and how to remain safe in beautiful Alaska!
Are there snakes in Alaska?
The short answer is that there are no snakes in Alaska. There are certainly no dangerous snakes in Alaska. Alaska is far enough north that there are no native reptiles to the state. Alaska does have some amphibians that include boreal toads, Columbia spotted frogs, wood frogs, long-toed salamanders, Northwestern salamanders, and rough-skinned newts.
In addition, while the state lacks terrestrial reptiles or lizards, its borders have been home to leatherback sea turtles, green sea turtles, olive ridley sea turtles, and loggerhead sea turtles.
In recent years there have been reports of the first terrestrial reptile taking up residence in Alaska: the common garter snake. Garter snakes are found from Florida to the coniferous forest of Ontario, into the southern reaches of Canada’s Northwest Territory. So it’s no surprise they might reach south Alaska.
For now, the reports of garter snakes are in Southeast Alaska, where the state has a long, narrow, strip along the water. Odds are,e unless you’re in the very south of Alaska near Ketchikan, you won’t discover a garter snake. However, it appears that Alaska’s claim to fame of being “snake-free” is being challenged as garter snakes continue increasing their range northward!
Are Bears the deadliest animals in Alaska?
Alaska is home to large bear populations. Let’s dive into how dangerous each species of bear is.
Polar Bears in Alaska
These large white bears are only found in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding area. They are actually not white; they have clear fur that reflects the white snow and their bodies are black! They are considered semi-aquatic animals that can spend days swimming at a time. Polar bears can grow to be over a thousand pounds weighing between 330-1,300lbs and growing to be 6-8ft long. Besides their sheer size, they can be a dangerous animals because of their large claws and large canine teeth (about 5cm in length) on both the top and bottom of their fierce mouths. They are located at the most northerly part of Alaska along the coasts. A recent study looked at polar bear attacks from 1870-2014 and calculated 73 attacks, 63 injuries, and 20 fatalities.
Grizzly Bears in Alaska
Grizzly bears are also known as brown bears (although they can be a variety of colors) and are the second-largest bear next to polar bears. On average, they grow to be 300-650lbs with the females a bit smaller. They have dangerous claws that can be almost 4 inches long! Grizzlies also have large canines with a powerful bite.
In a study of bear attacks in Alaska between 2000-2017 there were 68 bear attacks that resulted in 66 hospitalizations and 10 human fatalities. Of the 66 attacks, they were able to identify the bear in 49 of the cases and 47 of the 49 were grizzly bears! Of the 10 fatalities, 7 were from grizzly bears and only 3 were from black bears (a couple of attacks led to multiple fatalities). But when you consider that 13 of the attacks were work-related (ranger, safety officer, guide) and another 15 were actively hunting you can tell that it is even less likely for the average person to encounter a bear attack.
- Kodiak Bears: Kodiak bears only live in Alaska, on the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago. There are aound 3,500 Kodiak bears which is a healthy population. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge helps manage the hunting of these bears through monitored regulations. There is only one recorded human fatality from a bear on Kodiak in the last 75 years.
Black Bears in Alaska
Black bears are typically less aggressive than grizzly (brown) bears but have been known to attack if provoked. As reported above only 2 of the identified bears in the attacks were black bears and only 3 of the 10 fatalities were from black bears. Black bears are typically smaller than Grizzlies and have shorter claws. If you do come across a bear and need to know the difference, don’t rely on the color since both kinds of bears can have similar coloration, but for the shoulder hump on a grizzly, black bears do not have this.
Are Moose the deadliest animals in Alaska?
There are three times more moose than bears in Alaska so the odds are greater you would run into one! If you have not seen a moose in real life you may underestimate their size, thinking they are just like deer but with a bigger rack, but moose can grow to be 1,400lbs and stand 6 feet tall…at the shoulder!
Their antlers can be 4-5 feet wide, which they shed and regrow each season. But they are also pretty mild-mannered and keep to themselves most of the time. A Biologist from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist, Dave Battle, said that late spring is a time of increased Moose-human related incidents as the mother moose are taking care of their babies. In May of 2021, a 75-year-old woman was attacked by a moose when she accidentally startled one while out on a walk with her dog. It is suspected that the moose was trying to protect a new calf nearby. The woman ended up hospitalized with a broken collarbone and broken ribs. Moose in Alaska injure 5-10 people a year. They can also cause car accidents with 2-3 moose-vehicle fatalities a year.
What about wolves? Are wolves the deadliest animals in Alaska?
“A pack of hungry wolves” sounds like something you would not want to encounter anywhere! Wolves have 42 sharp teeth and typically hunt together. Alaska has some of the largest wolf packs with some having up to 30 wolves. Although wolves are not particularly large, weighing 80-160lbs, they can be fast reaching speeds of 38mph, so it would be impossible to outrun one. The good news is that there have been next to zero human fatalities as a result of wolves. In the last 50 years, there have only been 2 documented wolf-related human fatalities in North America. One in 2005 in Saskatchewan, Canada, where one member of a camping/exploring group ignored the bush pilot’s warning to not go near a local lake where a pack of wolves had been sighted. He went anyway and it cost him his life. A second incident in 2010 did happen in Alaska, a terrible accident that involved a teacher that was out for a jog and was attacked and killed. Researchers remind the public that the chances of being attacked by a wolf or pack of wolves is extremely, extremely rare.
Are Dogs the deadliest animals in Alaska?
Yes, dogs actually are the deadliest animals in Alaska. From 1991-to 2002 Alaska actually led all the states in the number of dog bites and fatalities. There were 9 dog-related deaths, all in children, and 288 hospitalizations. Of the fatalities there were 3 free-roaming dogs, 3 chained dogs, one was in a dog lot, one was a family pet and one was unknown. The Alaska Trauma Registry keeps track of all the dog bite incidents in an effort to find solutions to lower the incidents of dog bites, especially for young children, making Alaska a safer place to be.