Top 10 Deadliest Animals in America

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: September 13, 2022
Image Credit Digital Storm/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • There are plenty of dangerous animals in the US, but the ones most likely to kill you might come as a surprise.
  • Domestic livestock and dogs kill more people that sharks and alligators.
  • Wild animals are usually a danger only when humans invade their space.

America is a country that’s abundant in wildlife, and inevitably some of that wildlife is dangerous to humans. The body count from, say, venomous snakes isn’t nearly as high in America as it is in a country such as India. There are no man-eating lions and tigers as there are in Africa and Asia or salt-water crocodiles lurking on our shores. The list of venomous animals in Australia defies listing. Still, there are a good number of creatures to be wary of in America. Here is a list of the deadliest animals in America from the lowest to the highest number of people killed. The list excludes humans themselves, who killed 19,141 of their conspecifics in 2019 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, some of the most dangerous animals neither bite nor sting nor are considered predators. Some might surprise you!

#10. Sharks

Deadliest Animals in America
A great white shark attacking. Although shark attacks do happen, scientists believe that sharks often mistake humans for seals.

iStock.com/Peter_Nile

Given their reputation, people are surprised that sharks kill so few human beings. Scientists believe that much of the time, a shark that attacks a human is mistaking the human for a seal. After an exploratory bite reveals that the creature isn’t the shark’s usual prey, the fish goes about its business. The victim isn’t so lucky.

About one person is killed by a shark every two years off the coasts of America. Most of these attacks happen in Florida, California, Hawaii, Texas, and North and South Carolina. Dangerous sharks include the famous great white shark, the sand tiger, mako sharks, bull sharks, dusky sharks, tiger sharks, and hammerheads.

Go here to learn more about sharks.

#9. Alligators

Deadliest Animals in America
Alligator with jaws open wide at Everglades National Park. Alligators kill about one person a year in America.

iStock.com/unclegene

Alligators kill an average of one person per year in America. The low number of fatalities may also be surprising to people, especially since a grown American alligator can be 9 to 16.5 feet long and weigh over 792 pounds. They can live over 70 years in captivity. Alligators differ from crocodiles as they are separate species. There is an American crocodile, which has a rounded snout and its coloration is green or black to help it blend in with its habitat. They are found along the southern most costs of Florida.

Alligators are smaller and less aggressive than crocodiles so they are less likely to harm a human. A daytime predator, an alligator may suddenly grab a person, often a child who has wandered too close to the water’s edge, and drag them underwater to drown them before eating them. However, alligators, which live in the swamps and rivers of the American south, usually eat turtles, waterbirds, and mammals.

Read this article for more information on alligators.

#8. Cougars

Deadliest Animals in America
Cougars are large cats, and although not usually aggressive, have been involved in attacks on humans as well as causing death.

iStock.com/SandmanXX

Cougars have killed 27 humans in the past hundred years, which averages out to less than three people per year. About the same size as a leopard, this solitary cat is found in a variety of American habitats, including swamps, grasslands, and coniferous forests in the mountains. Basically, if there’s enough cover and an abundance of prey, the cougar can adapt and thrive. Some biologists believe it is even more adaptable than the coyote. Its favorite prey is deer even to the size of an elk, which it subdues by leaping on its back or grabbing it by the throat. The cougar will then drag the prey to a secluded spot to eat.

Go here to learn about cougars.

#7. Bears

Deadliest Animals in America
Brown mother bear protecting her cubs in the forest. Sows with cubs are especially dangerous.

iStock.com/LuCaAr

On average, bears kill between two and five people every year, and so far in 2021, there have been six bear attacks in North America that resulted in fatalities. There have been five fatal attacks by black bears between 2020 and 2021 and 10 between 2014 and 2019. The brown bear was responsible for six deaths between 2020 and 2021. Polar bears have killed 20 people between 1870 and 2014, which is an average of about seven people per year. Grizzly bears seem most likely to kill humans of all the American bears and 2021 saw four deadly attacks by this huge bear. Bears can be a bit unpredictable, and at least one bear killed a person who had taken to feeding it. Sows with cubs are especially dangerous.

Go here, here, here, and here to learn about bears.

#6. Venomous Snakes

Deadliest Animals in America
Rattlesnake bites can be dangerous but are very rarely fatal to humans. With proper medical treatment, including antivenin, bites are usually not serious.

Maria Dryfhout/Shutterstock.com

Venomous snakes aren’t necessarily poisonous. Venomous means they deliver their toxins through fangs, while poisonous would mean that they’re unsafe to eat or even handle. Rattlesnake meat, after all, is considered a delicacy. About five people per year die of snakebite in America, according to the CDC. However, 7000 to 8000 people are bitten by these snakes, and fatalities would certainly be higher if the victim wasn’t promptly treated.

Venomous snakes in America include the dangerous and bad-tempered cottonmouth, the copperhead, the coral snake, and several types of rattlesnakes, including the eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes, the sidewinder, the western rattlesnake, and the timber rattlesnake, the only rattler found in the northeast.

To learn more about snakes, go here and here.

#5. Dangerous Spiders

Deadliest Animals in America
Although people often fear the black widow for its venomous bite, it is less deadly than many believe. A black widow’s bite can be harmful, but it is rarely fatal.

Sari ONeal/Shutterstock.com

Nearly all spiders are venomous as opposed to poisonous, but their venom is just powerful enough to subdue their prey. However, there are two spiders that have venom that is dangerous to humans, and they are the brown recluse and the black widow, some of the deadliest animals in America. These spiders kill around seven people every year. Fortunately, they’re not aggressive and would rather scuttle away and hide than confront an aggressor. They live in the backs of closets, in basements, in the garage, in abandoned garden boots, and in woodpiles outside.

The black widow can be identified by its glossy black body and round abdomen that bears a red hourglass shape. The brown recluse holds its legs crabwise and has a figure on it is back that resembles a violin. This gives it its other name of fiddleback spider.

For more about black widow spiders, read this.

#4. Livestock

Deadliest Animals in America
Cows kill more than 20 people in the United States each year, and the cause of death is most often blunt force trauma to the head or chest. Most victims are farmworkers who are trampled, crushed, or gored.

Laura Hedien/Shutterstock.com

Wild animals are not the only creatures most likely to kill. Cows, thought by people to be rather slow and stupid, kill about 20 people every year in the United States. Many cows have sharp horns that can gore a person, and even if they don’t have horns, they are big and powerful animals, and a stampeding cow is a supremely dangerous animal. Cattle use the dense bone of their skulls as a weapon. Even cows who do not have horns have an extra thick skull plate and the instincts to charge at anything that threatens them.

New mothers are the most dangerous cattle to be around as they are extremely protective of their newborn calves. Humans often underestimate the danger posed by cattle as they usually move slow and seem docile. However, they can move with lightening speed and they put all of their massive weight behind every attack. Cattle are playful and curious creatures and they will often try to play with people. Their version of play is to practice the head-butting and charging they use to defend themselves and can easily kill a person. Sometimes the cow doesn’t “mean” to cause injury, but most of the time it does.

Horses also kill about 20 people a year, and some people claim the number is as high as 100. Deaths are usually due to injuries where the rider falls off the horse or there’s the kind of accident where both rider and horse fall, and the horse rolls over on the rider and crushes them. A well-aimed kick from a horse can also have bad consequences.

Read this and this to learn more about cows and horses.

#3. Dogs

Deadliest Animals in America
American Pit Bull Terrier running a field. Fear aggression is a major reason why dogs attack their owners. If your dog has a bad history or has been beaten and mistreated before, then they feel threatened and become defensive.

alekta/Shutterstock.com

Dogs, and not just wild or feral dogs but people’s pets, kill between 30 and 50 people every year, and the number is going up, making them one of the deadliest animals in America. With human society becoming ever more urbanized, dogs are seldom given the exercise and freedom that they need. This causes constant stress for dogs and leads to increasing behavior problems. It is good to remember that the dog is descended from the wolf, a predator that hunts in packs. Every year millions of people are bitten by dogs and thousands have to go to the hospital to be treated for bites.

The dog most likely to kill, unfortunately, is the pit bull terrier. This is compounded by the fact that pit bull type dogs have become the number most often bred dogs in the country, particularly in urban areas. The pit bull has a bite powerful enough to cause life-threatening injuries if it’s delivered to the head or the neck.

Want to know more about dogs? Read this.

#2. Hornets, Bees and Wasps

Deadliest Animals in America
Asian Giant Hornet on a branch. Although not typically aggressive toward humans, Asian giant hornets will sting people who attempt to handle them.

Ruzy Hartini/Shutterstock.com

Hornets, bees, and wasps are some of the deadliest animals in America when it comes to humans. They kill about 56 people every year by stinging them. These people are usually very sensitive to the venom of these insects and go into anaphylactic shock when they’re stung.

One surprisingly complicated exercise is to tell hornets, wasps, and bees from each other. One way to tell is that hornets and wasps are nearly hairless and have very thin waists. They can also sting more than once. Though some bees, such as bumblebees can also sting more than once, they seldom do so. Honeybee can only sting once because the sting lodges in her victim and basically eviscerates her as she pulls away. Wasps and hornets can sting as many times as they want. Bees tend to be furry and have robust bodies. Bees are also vegetarian, and hornets and wasps eat other insects as well as carbohydrates.

A hornet is a type of wasp. They are told from wasps mostly because the tops of their heads are rounder, and their abdomen has a round segment right behind their waist. Hornets are not native to the United States so they have few natural predators. All of them have been introduced, including the now-notorious murder hornet, or Asian giant hornet. This hornet is a threat not so much to humans, even though its venom can kill, but to the honeybees humans depend on.

For more on bees, wasps and hornets go here, here, and here.

#1. Deer

Deadliest Animals in America
Every year up to 200 people are killed by deer, mostly in car accidents.

iStock.com/Matt_Gibson

Pretty, sweet-natured, and timid, the deer is one of the deadliest animals in America. Of all the wild animals listed, it is most dangerous to humans. Every year 120 to 200 people are killed by deer. This usually happens because the deer jumps out into the road and is hit by a car. The driver loses control and crashes. In other cases, the driver loses control when they try to avoid hitting a deer and has a fatal accident. This often happens during the breeding season because the bucks chase does in order to mate with them. Breeding season is in the fall when the daylight hours are also growing short.

Deer have even been known to attack people as well. Stags in a rut can gore people with their antlers and even antler-less deer can kick, trample and headbutt. This usually happens to hunters who use scent lures to attract bucks to them. Sometimes it works too well and the buck attacks what he sees as a rival because of the scent.

To know more about deer, go here.

Summary

The animals that pose the greatest risk to humans are not the ones we think of as being deadly. These are the critters most likely to cause problems for people.

Most DangerousSpeciesThreat
1.DeerGoring and trampling
2.Hornets, bees, and waspsstings
3.Dogsbite wounds
4.LivestockGoring, trampling, kicking, falling
5.Dangerous spidersBiting
6.Venomous snakesBiting
7.BearsBiting, clawing, charging
8.CougarsBiting, clawing
9.AlligatorsBiting – mostly children
10.SharksBiting

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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

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