The 6 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: May 9, 2022
Image Credit Katja Tsvetkova/Shutterstock.com
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The Mississippi River is the longest river in North America and the fourth-longest in the world. This massive stretch of water is home to a variety of wildlife and habitat, but is any of it dangerous? Most people don’t consider North America to be a particularly dangerous place in terms of animals, but the Mississippi River is home to its fair share of dangerous creatures. Today, we are going to take a look at the 6 most dangerous animals in the Mississippi River. By the end, you’ll know if it’s worth it to take a dip in the United State’s most famous waterway!

Is the Mississippi River dangerous?

While any list of dangerous animals can sound scary, things often aren’t as bad as they sound. Overall, the Mississippi isn’t all that dangerous, especially as far as wild animals are concerned. Truth be told, swimmers are at more risk from the water itself than any animal that could be nearby. Still, it’s important to know what could be nearby!

We’ve broken our list into two categories to be accurate. The first is a list of dangerous animals that live IN the river. The second is a list of animals that could be around the river itself. Let’s take a look at these animals (some might surprise you)!

A list of the most dangerous animals “in” the Mississippi River:

There are only a few animals that live INSIDE the Mississippi River that can be dangerous to humans, with a few that live along the shores that could potentially be dangerous. Let’s check them out!

Bull shark

The 7 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River
Bull sharks can travel thousands of miles up freshwater rivers.

Albert Kok – Public Domain

First on our list is the bull shark. While this may be surprising, it isn’t as wild as it sounds! Bull sharks are sometimes known as the most aggressive sharks in the world and are usually recognized as one of the most dangerous. Part of the reason these sharks are so dangerous is due to an amazing adaptation they have – the ability to tolerate fresh water and change their body chemistry on the fly. As a result, they can live in freshwater for most of their life without concern.

Despite spending most of their lives in brackish or saltwater, they have been known to migrate inland, especially from the Gulf of Mexico. A common path they take is up through the Mississippi River. One bull shark, for example, was found in Alton, Illinois. Alton is about 15 miles north of St. Louis off of the Mississippi, a whopping 1750 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

Bull sharks are dangerous animals, although shark attacks are generally quite rare. Still, it’s possible to encounter a bull shark in the Mississippi River.

American alligators

The 7 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River
Alligators live in the swampy regions and delta of the Mississippi.

iStock.com/unclegene

The American alligator is one of the top predators in the southern United States. With a range that extends as far north as North Carolina and as far south as Florida and Louisiana, it’s no surprise they can be found near the Mississippi. While the chances of seeing an alligator in the actual Mississippi is low, they live all over the surrounding areas and swampy lowlands that the delta turns into. Mississippi and Louisiana are the only states that the Mississippi River flows through that also have alligators. Currently, there are an estimated 30,000 alligators in Mississippi and 2 million alligators in Louisana.

Cottonmouths

The 7 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River
The cottonmouth is the only venomous water snake in the Mississippi

Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Of all the dangerous water snakes of the world, only the cottonmouth is present in the Mississippi. Although aquatic snakes don’t actually live in the water, they do spend a majority of their time in it. There are many species of watersnake across the Mississipies range, but only the cottonmouth is venomous.

The cottonmouth is found in all of the southern states that the Mississippi runs through and as far north as Illinois, although only in the southernmost tip. A bite from a cottonmouth is a medical emergency, although it rarely attacks humans unless provoked.

Dangerous animals “around” the Mississippi:

Let’s take a look at some animals that may not live inside the waters of the Mississippi but live across its distant shores!

Coyotes

The 7 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River
There are coyote populations across most of the United States.

Brenda Carson/Shutterstock.com

Coyotes are small wolf-like creatures that are about the size of a dog. They are extremely prevalent across most of the United States and hunt in packs of up to 21 individuals. The primary prey for coyotes are rodents, rabbits, and deer. Still, they do pose a threat to humans, although encounters are quite rare. Most encounters with humans are accidental, and coyotes usually want to avoid us. The most common reason a coyote will attack a human is due to diseases (like rabies) and human behaviors (feeding). As such, feeding a coyote is never, ever a good idea.

Copperheads

The 7 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River
Copperhead snakes live near water sources but not usually in them.

Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock.com

Copperheads are venomous snakes found across much of the United States. They aren’t necessarily aquatic snakes, but they are usually found near water sources. As such, they do live along the shores of the Mississippi, as far north as Illinois and Indiana.

Copperheads, like the cottonmouth, prefer to be left alone. If you happen to encounter one in the surrounding woodlands of the Mississippi, simply walk away. Most bites occur when both the snake and the human aren’t expecting the other one to be there!

Black bears

The 7 Most Dangerous Animals in the Mississippi River
Black bears live in small regions around the Mississippi River, but only in a few states.

iStock.com/christiannafzger

Bears are some of the coolest animals in North America, although their range is much smaller than what it historically was. As it stands, black bears only live in small, isolated regions across the Mississippi River. The states that the Mississippi passes through that also have black bear populations include Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Black bear encounters are somewhat common, although the bears are never looking for a confrontation. The vast majority of the time, they are looking for food. Seeing a black bear near the Mississippi is rare, but it could very well happen.

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