Kelly McSweeney

May 2nd 2022

When Animals Attack: The Most Dangerous Animals in the U.S.


Early one morning in a Lake Tahoe cabin, a woman was attacked by a black bear, one of the most dangerous animals in the U.S. The bear charged at her when she startled it as it was tearing her freezer apart looking for food.

“I remember seeing his big paw right on my face and basically nothing else,” she told CNN. “And I started feeling my body being ripped apart.”

While it’s impossible to truly know the bear’s intention, a representative from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggested that bears in that area, which is an urban-rural interface, survive by pursuing human sources of food. The bear was hungry, and like a twisted version of the Goldilocks story, it helped itself to someone else’s food.

We’ve all heard similar stories of wildlife attacking humans, especially as humans continue to encroach on the remaining natural habitats that support wild animals. Are some animals born mean, or is there a deeper reason behind these attacks?

The Most Dangerous Animals in the U.S.

As the early-morning snack story illustrates, bears are more ferocious than people may realize. They often top lists of the most dangerous animals. These powerful animals, which are called Ursidae in science lingo, are common in North America. They have sharp claws and strong teeth and can weigh anywhere from a pound at birth up to 1,600 pounds, according to the Be Bear Aware Campaign. There are a few species of bears in the U.S.: black bears (relatively small and common), brown bears (an apex predator with almost no enemies except humans and sometimes called grizzly bears, although that’s just one subspecies), and polar bears (the largest land carnivores).

Outdoor experience website Outforia analyzed confirmed deaths caused by animals over the last 50 years and developed a list of the most deadly animals in North America. Here are animals that caused the most fatalities in the last half-century:

  • Brown bear (70)
  • Shark (57)
  • Snake (57)
  • Black bear (54)
  • Alligator (33)
  • Cougar (16)
  • Polar bear (10)
  • Wolf (2)

Plus, Fodors calls out a few other dangerous American animals:

  • Coyotes
  • Ticks (due to transmissible diseases)
  • Jellyfish
  • Bees, hornets and wasps
  • Deer and moose (as part of car crashes)

While this second group of animals isn’t as deadly, they cause harm. Coyotes often live near humans and eat household pets. Ticks carry bacteria that can cause illnesses such as Lyme disease. Jellyfish, bees, hornets and wasps sting, leaving painful marks and possibly worse if the person they sting is allergic.

Finally, while deer and moose aren’t known for attacking people, they can cause vehicle crashes. What are the odds? Surprisingly high. LCB, a gambling information website, crunched the numbers and discovered that people are far more likely to be killed by deer than by any other animal. And while any fatality is tragic, we really can’t blame Bambi. Much like the bear problem, it’s not that deer wander into our path; it’s that we have wandered into theirs. LCB points out, “Due to rapid urban development, the deer’s natural habitat is shrinking, causing them to share more space with humans, where they often wander into oncoming traffic and cause car crashes.”

Animal Instinct

Even the most dangerous animals usually have a good reason for attacking humans and our pets. It all relates to instinctive behavior and the driving forces behind evolution.

Instinct, according to Britannica, is “an involuntary response by an animal, resulting in a predictable and relatively fixed behavior pattern.”

First and foremost, we are invading their territory. Whether it’s by accident, like in the case of deer, or on purpose, like more ferocious animals, these animals have a natural instinct to stay in their territory. We can see this even in our own homes, for example, when pets guard their favorite snuggle spot. And when an animal can physically overpower a person, all bets are off. According to Outforia, bears are fiercely territorial.

Another reason animals may harm humans is when they are afraid. We may be relatively weak, but we are, after all, at the top of the food chain when we use weapons, so it makes sense for their wild animal instinct to tell them to perceive humans as a threat.

Carnivorous animals also attack humans for food due to a severe lack of natural resources when their natural food sources have been depleted by human intervention or because we look like their prey. Scientists have linked shark attacks, for example, to a case of mistaken identity because surfboards look like seals, USA Today reports. And there’s truth behind the “mama bear” stereotype: Animals will hurt humans if they perceive us as threats to their babies.

In conclusion, if we stay out of the way, even the most dangerous animals in the U.S. are not here to harm us. Your odds of being killed by an animal could be as high as 1 in 674,600 in Montana or as low as 1 in 8,184,535 in Massachusetts, according to LCB.

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