The Deadliest Animals in Michigan

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: January 31, 2023
© Jim Cumming/Shutterstock.com
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Michigan is known for its Great Lakes: Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie (with Lake Ontario being the fifth Great Lake but not bordering Michigan). With all of these lakes, Michigan has the longest combined freshwater coastline in the US. There are also beautiful parks like the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the Upper Peninsula and Wilderness State Park in the Lower Peninsula. If you are hiking in the parks or spending time in lakes there are a few animals you should be aware of that could be dangerous.

Michigan is the Wolverine State but are wolverines dangerous (and are there any in Michigan)? The Michigan state flag has a moose, elk, and bald eagle displayed, are any of these animals dangerous? What about the Great Lakes, what dangerous animals might be swimming in the Lakes? Let’s find out about some of the dangerous animals in Michigan.

Are wolverines the most dangerous animal in Michigan?

Wolverine Animal Facts - Wolverine Showing Teeth
Wolverines are fearsome predators but are no longer found in Michigan.

©DenisaPro/Shutterstock.com

Wolverines do have a reputation for being nasty and it would be dangerous to come in contact with one, but there are no wolverine populations in Michigan. Wolverines are members of the weasel family. In fact, they are the largest land-living member of the group. You may think wolverines are like raccoons but they are much larger. Your average raccoon is 10-20lbs whereas wolverines can get to be 30-40lbs. They have long sharp claws and a powerful jaw with sharp teeth.

In addition to these physical characteristics, they have a bad attitude and are known to be ornery and aggressive. This is actually how Michigan got associated with the name Wolverines. According to Absolute Michigan, the name came from a dispute between Michigan and Ohio back in the 1835 Toledo War where they were fighting over a strip of land. The Ohioans called the Michigans wolverines based on the reputation of these animals’ disposition. The University of Michigan later adopted the animal as its mascot.

What animals (that actually live in Michigan) are dangerous?

Black Bear
Michigan is home to more than 10,000 black bears.

©Ghost Bear/Shutterstock.com

While wolverines may not currently live in Michigan, there are a number of animals that can be dangerous. Let’s examine some of the largest species in the state.

  • Moose: Moose are the second largest land mammal in North America (with bison being the largest). They can grow to be 1,500lbs and stand 4-6 feet tall at the shoulder. Their large rack of antlers can have a spread of 4 feet. More people are attacked by moose than by bears, but the number of fatalities caused by moose is very low.
  • Elk: Elk are bigger than you may think as well and can get to be as much as 1,100lbs and are 4-5 feet at the shoulder. Their antlers are not as big as moose but much bigger than white-tailed deer. These antlers can obviously be dangerous. Back in 2014, there was an Elk that attacked a man at the Wolf Lake Resort & Campground in Western Michigan. Details were a little vague, but a fire official did confirm they responded to a call and the injured man was sent to the hospital. With elk and moose, it is best to stay at least 25 yards away because they can pivot and charge much quicker than you would think.
  • Black Bears: Grizzly bears are more dangerous than black bears but do not live in Michigan. There are black bears, and a healthy population of them with most being in the Upper Peninsula. The Lower Peninsula only has 2,000 bears compared to the 10,000 in the Upper Peninsula. Bears are attracted by food and if natural food sources are scarce they may wander into populated areas in search of food. They are drawn to trash cans and bird feeders so residents are reminded to keep trash bins covered and to be aware of the dangers of having birdfeeders. Bear attacks are very rare but in 2014 a 12-year-old girl was attacked while she was out on a run. She was familiar with the area but this time she was confronted by a bear that decided to chase her. The bear, which can run much faster than people, caught her and attacked her with neighbors coming to her aid. She was flown to the hospital where she needed surgery but recovered from her injuries. An incredibly scary, but also rare occurrence.

What Venomous Animals Live In Michigan?

Michigan isn’t home to many venomous animals, but it does have one snake to be aware of.

  • Snakes: There is only one venomous snake in Michigan and it is very rarely seen. The Eastern massasauga rattlesnake is a shy snake that doesn’t want to interact with humans. They are a smaller gray snake with brown splotches, a triangle head, and rattle at the end of their tail. Although rattlesnake bites are dangerous, they are rarely fatal, but if do get bit you should seek medical attention.

Beyond snakes, Michigan is also home to black widows and brown recluses which are venomous and have extremely painful bites that may require medical attention.

What animals in the Great Lakes are dangerous?

Sea lamprey on brown trout, facing left
Sea lamprey are an invasive threat to the Great Lakes.

©Sweeting, Roger [Photographer] (2016) Sea lamprey parasitising brown trout. Freshwater Biological Association, UK / Creative Commons – License

The most “dangerous” animals in the Great Lakes are largely invasive fish that threaten local populations.

  • Sea Lampreys vs. Snakeheads: When you see a picture of a sea lamprey, your first reaction is probably “Ewe!”. If you see a snakehead…same thing, “Ewe!!”. Both can be found in Lake Michigan and both are invasive species. Sea Lamprey look like eels but they have a circular suction cup mouth filled with tiny sharp teeth! They can grow to be 2 feet long and they attach themselves to fish and live parasitically. Because they prey on other “good” fish in the Lakes, conservationists are trying to rid the lakes of them. Same with the Snakeheads. Snakeheads look more like fish with dorsal and anal fins but they have a long slender head (that looks like a snake) and they have pelvic fins that are so strong they can actually use them to “walk” on land. They can actually survive on land for short periods of time using an adapted air bladder so they can breathe air. Although they both have a big “Ewe factor” there have been very few recorded bites from these fish so they are probably not the most dangerous animal in Michigan.

Are there actually sharks in the Great Lakes?

In 2021 Florida saw 28 confirmed shark attacks, with none of them being fatal. Worldwide there were 73 with only 9 being fatal. So statistically the chances of being attacked or killed by a shark are extremely rare. The chances of being attacked by a shark in the Great Lakes is zero because they’re not found in the Great Lakes. There are “reports” of sightings of sharks in the Lakes but the likelihood of a shark making it from the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico seem impossible. Take a look at a map of the waterways and consider the lock and dam systems and Niagara Falls and decide for yourself if you feel comfortable swimming in one of the Great Lakes! Then remember that even sharks that can survive in freshwater – such as the bull shark – wouldn’t be able to survive in the extremely cold temperatures the lakes experience.

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Black Bear Showing Teeth
A black bear showing their teeth.
© Jim Cumming/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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