The Most Dangerous Animals on Earth

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:36:38 PM ET
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Have you ever wondered which animals are the biggest threat to humans? Surprisingly, there are a lot more of them than you think. Some live in far-off lands, but some are shockingly close to home — you could even have one under your very own roof!

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Frightened? Take a look at our list of the deadliest creatures on Earth to make sure you know exactly what danger looks like. After all, you never know when you might come face to face with a deadly creature.

Pigs

What? But pigs are too fat and lazy to be dangerous, right? Truthfully, most pigs aren't dangerous at all, but some domesticated pigs — not wild ones, which are always menacing — are downright deadly. They won’t hunt you down to attack you, but if you’re vulnerable in their presence, they are capable of anything.

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For example, a farmer once collapsed in his barn from a heart attack — and fell victim to his pigs. There have also been reports of the Italian mafia feeding victims to pigs. Just remember, these animals can grow to 700 pounds.

Pufferfish

A pufferfish is an unlikely threat to the average Joe, but some people in Japan consider it a delicacy to eat. As a result, the daring diners occasionally die from incorrectly catching or preparing the pufferfish. If the final product isn’t perfect, it becomes a fatal appetizer.

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Only specially trained chefs prepare pufferfish, and even they can make mistakes. When you consider that a pufferfish is 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide — enough to kill 30 grown men — it suddenly doesn't seem so appetizing.

Alligators

These freshwater beasts certainly look like a frightening sight, but they are actually one of the least deadly animals on our list. That doesn't mean you want to get too close to one. In states like Florida and Louisiana, they are responsible for a few human deaths every year.

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For one thing, alligators are clever. They use sticks to lure birds close enough to attack, and they stalk prey by blending into their surroundings. Keep your distance, and you should be fine. It's your pets you need to worry about, as these reptiles are known for gobbling up wandering dogs.

Wolves

Similar to alligators, wolves may appear frightening, but they are only responsible for a few human fatalities per year. Additionally, some of the fatalities are attributed to rabies, so don't think of these big predators as vicious human-eating machines — they aren’t.

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Wolves are most likely to attack humans if they feel threatened or are starving and have no other food prospects. Humans, on the other hand, kill hundreds of wolves a year, often because wolves kill their livestock. This has unintended consequences, however, as thinning out a wolf pack forces them to hunt livestock even more often due to a shortage of hunters.

Great White Sharks

Ah, yes, the great white shark, an animal that terrifies beach lovers everywhere. These fears aren't entirely unfounded. There are about 150 shark attacks annually, but only six to 10 are fatal, and few — if any — are committed by great whites. Those are still some scary odds if sharks have been seen recently in an area.

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Sadly, sharks suffer more at the hands of humans than the other way around. More than 100 million are killed yearly for their fins or become unintended casualties of large-scale fishing. Unfortunately, humans are usually deadlier to animals than animals are to humans.

Bears

Bears kill about 12 people per year, so they earned a spot on our list of deadliest animals. They don't seek out humans, however. Most fatalities occur when humans stumble upon bears in the wild, especially bears with cubs. In North America, brown bears are particularly aggressive.

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If you see a bear in the woods, the first step is to slowly move away. If a brown bear charges you, you must fight your instinct to run. It only makes them see you as prey. Hold your ground and play dead should they make contact.

Brazilian Wandering Spiders

The Brazilian wandering spider belongs to a family of spiders named Phoneutria ("murderess" in Greek). They look similar to tarantulas but are much, much deadlier. A bite contains enough venom to be lethal if medical help isn't available. It causes burning pain, nausea, hypothermia and more.

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These spiders don't make webs. Instead, they hunt reptiles, mice and other small animals by stalking them along the forest floor. They live in Brazil and Latin America, so if you're ever taking a trip to the Amazon, be careful where you step!

Bulldog Ants

One animal you never want to encounter is the bulldog ant. These tiny creatures are venomous and aggressive, and they won't shy away from a big lumbering human. They will clamp onto your skin and inject their stinger multiple times — like a bee, only 100 times worse.

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Get stung by a bulldog ant, and you have approximately 15 minutes to live. The good part? They are only found in Australia — okay, not good if you live in Australia — but they live far away from most humans. Officially, there have only been three recorded deaths due to bulldog ants since 1936.

Horses

What? These beautiful, kind animals can be even deadlier than bears? Unfortunately, yes, but not in the way that you think. About 20 people a year die because of horses in the U.S., but most of those deaths are from falling off while riding one.

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In rare cases, horses can become aggressive and fatally attack people. One thing is for certain, you don't want to walk behind one. Their kick will knock you unconscious — or worse! Horses may be regal and loving, but they are still powerful animals and should be respected as such.

Cows

Another surprising contender on our list of deadliest animals is the cow. They kill about the same number of people as horses do, and, yes, it’s usually by accident. Sometimes cows get spooked and attack in defense, especially if dogs are involved.

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There have also been cases of cows jumping from cliffs and killing people below. Bizarre, right? Because they're usually slow-moving and docile, we forget that cows weigh thousands of pounds and can do serious damage. Given that we kill more than 100,000 cows a day in the U.S., we're lucky they don't retaliate more often.

Tigers

You might have had one of these as a stuffed animal once, but they're far from soft and cuddly. Tigers kill around 100 people a year, and they can be a real threat in India and other native countries. Imagine knowing tigers live in the jungle surrounding your house?

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Most tiger attacks are territorial, but some tigers have been known to hunt humans for food. That usually only happens if a tiger is wounded and unable to hunt its usual prey or because their habitat is diminishing to the point where there's no other option.

Lions

Another big cat that kills about 100 people a year is the lion and for similar reasons. Sometimes humans happen upon them or get too close on their African safaris. Other times, lions hunt humans because their normal food source isn't as plentiful as it used to be.

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We all know that lions can be found in Africa, but they used to inhabit parts of Europe and Asia as well. We have humans to thank for their dwindling numbers, of course. Even today, roughly 600 lions a year are killed for sport.

Cape Buffalo

These enormous grassland dwellers are even more lethal than lions, if you can believe it. Part of the reason for this is that Cape buffalo are widely hunted in Africa, and the hunters become the hunted if their shot doesn't take down this huge moving target.

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In some cases, a wounded Cape buffalo won't just run off to seek safety. It will circle around and attack the person that shot it. Sounds like karma, doesn't it? This amounts to about 200 human deaths a year. Cape buffalo aren’t easy animals to handle, that's for sure.

Leopards

Like tigers, leopards are mostly a danger in India, where their numbers are highest and their habitats are near human populations. As with almost every animal on our list, they only pose a threat if you happen to cross their path at the wrong time.

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Every once in a while, however, a leopard will get a taste for human meat. They call these leopards "man-eaters," and a single man-eating leopard can be responsible for more than 100 human deaths. This means the annual death toll is always changing as "man-eaters" come and go.

Deer

We love to spot deer grazing on the roadside, but do you know they are the reason for more than 200 human deaths a year? That's right, these easily spooked animals kill more people than bears and lions combined. How can that be?

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You may have noticed that many high-speed roads tend to snake through a deer's habitat. Consequently, it's very common for deer to leap out into roadways when they are startled by cars or other nearby noises. Not only do humans sometimes die as a result, but the deer die as well. Make sure you're alert on back-country roads.

Elephants

Elephants cause roughly 500 human deaths each year, and that number is increasing. There are a couple of theories for why this is true. Elephant habitats are getting smaller, so the huge beasts are around humans more often, which can lead to more incidents of aggression.

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Another theory is that elephants could remember that humans killed their family members. An estimated 55 elephants are killed each day for their ivory, and researchers think family members of deceased elephants may harbor trauma and aggression they associate with humans. After all, elephants are known to be intelligent, tight-knit creatures.

Asian Giant Hornets

These hornets are scary for more than just their painful sting — they are the largest hornet in the world and five times bigger than an average honey bee. You can find these monstrosities flying around the skies of tropical eastern habitats, although you should cross your fingers you don't find them.

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Apparently, their poison feels like a hot nail going into your skin, and it causes malfunctions in red blood cells. More often than not, however, deaths occur due to people being allergic to their venom. You probably don’t want to try to imagine what the Queen Asian Giant Hornet looks like!

Hippos

These "river horses" — the Greek meaning for their name — probably make you think of the adorable Hungry Hungry Hippos game instead of deadly water creatures. That might change when you learn that hippos kill about 500 people a year. They have even tipped over boats and bitten people's heads off. Holy river horse!

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Hippos are very aggressive and territorial creatures, so anytime they feel threatened by humans, they attack. They can weigh up to 6,000 pounds, so it's no wonder they manage to do some damage! Whatever you do, stay away from hippos and their babies if you see them.

Tapeworms

When you think of deadly animals you probably don't think of this tiny worm, but they wreak havoc worldwide and end up killing about 700 people annually. They are most prevalent in areas with questionable hygiene practices, as they get passed along in excrement.

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Fatalities occur when people contract a disease the tapeworms carry called cysticercosis. All of this can be avoided with proper health care, so those who lack this resource are the ones at the most risk. The lesson here is that animals don't have to be big to be dangerous.

Saltwater Crocodiles

Saltwater crocodiles are deadlier than their freshwater cousins, the alligator, by a long shot. Most of them reside in Africa, and they manage to kill a whopping 1,000 people every year. Many believe that number is actually a low estimate.

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Why are crocodiles so murderous? Well, they live close to humans, and their talent for camouflage is unparalleled. They are excellent at lying in wait — undetected — as humans approach the water. Couple that with their gargantuan size (up to 20 feet), and you don't have much of a chance.

Box Jellyfish

A sting from a box jellyfish isn't always fatal — if you're lucky. Many people, however, perish from the venomous sting or drown from the shock of the pain. From afar, they may look pretty and innocuous, but don't be fooled. You don't want to come across one on your ocean swim.

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Most box jellyfish live in the waters surrounding Australia, although they can be found off Florida and Hawaii as well. They measure 10 feet long from head to tentacle and hold enough venom to kill 60 people. Even creepier, they have 24 eyes.

Cone Snails

You've probably picked up snails along a beach at some point, but they weren't cone snails — at least, we certainly hope not. Cone snails have venomous teeth that they shoot from their bodies at passing fish, paralyzing them, so the slow snail can take his time catching up and eating it.

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Their teeth are so sharp that they can puncture a wetsuit, which is why this itty-bitty snail is such a deadly danger to scuba divers. You can find these guys in many oceans, including along the coast of Florida.

Deathstalker Scorpions

Horrifyingly, there are 25 different scorpion species that have venom lethal enough to kill humans. The deathstalker is merely the one with the scariest name. According to researchers’ estimates, 0.25 mg of a deathstalker's poison is enough to render two pounds of mice lifeless. That's a lot of dead mice.

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They are seen mostly in the Middle East, where they roam at night searching for centipedes and other large insects. Generally, they aren’t interested in humans, but that doesn’t mean they won’t attack should one show up. Scorpions cause more than 3,000 deaths a year.

Tsetse Flies

Similar to the tapeworm, tsetse flies are lethal for the disease they often carry. Victims of a tsetse fly bite are exposed to sleeping sickness, a treatable illness that can be fatal if medical help isn't available. This illness resembles the flu in its beginning stages, but after a few weeks, it can leave the carrier in a coma and lead to death.

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You will notice it when this fly bites you. It usually leaves a big, sore, red spot on the skin. Seek treatment as soon as possible, or you risk falling into a deadly slumber.

Golden Poison Dart Frogs

These bright yellow frogs look kind of cute — until you learn that each one has enough poison to kill 10 adult humans. They are tiny — usually not any bigger than a paperclip — and reside primarily in the coastal regions of Colombia.

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Local communities use the golden dart frog in their hunting. They coat arrows in the poison before shooting at their prey. The interesting part is why these frogs are poisonous. They aren’t actually born poisonous; they build up poison over time by eating toxic mites and ants. Crazy, right?

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Dogs

Okay, now we’re just being ridiculous, right? Nope! This "deadly" animal tends to surprise people the most. Obviously, most dogs are friendly, fun-loving pets and protectors of the home. The fact that they're so prevalent, however, is part of what makes them so deadly, statistically speaking. Dogs kill between 25,000 to 35,000 people a year.

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Those numbers are mostly due to rabies, a disease that causes animals to turn fatally aggressive. Luckily, there is a vaccine to protect against rabies, but many countries have stray dogs that don't exactly have regular appointments with veterinarians.

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Black Mambas

The number of people killed by snakes varies but is believed to be anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 a year. Many consider the black mamba to be the most dangerous snake of all. Not only are these snakes highly venomous, but they are fast and big as well.

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A black mamba can grow to be 14 feet long and move at 12 miles per hour. To put that in perspective, the average person walks 3 miles per hour. Let’s just say you don't want one coming up behind you! These snakes live in southern and eastern Africa.

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Assassin Bugs

The name pretty much says it all for this deadly insect. Also known as "kissing bugs," they tend to bite the faces of sleeping people, making their "kiss" the kiss of death. Assassin bugs carry a deadly disease called Chagas, and it spreads through the excrement they leave in the bite. Gross!

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Chagas disease circulates through the tropics and isn't the easiest to spot unless you know you were bitten. The symptoms can be minor and go undetected, causing internal inflammation. Without treatment, it can damage the heart and prove fatal.

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Mosquitos

Who would have thought that insects are some of the deadliest animals on Earth? Again, mosquitos are dangerous because of the many diseases they carry with them. It doesn’t help that there are 3,000 different species with uncountable numbers all over the world. That makes it incredibly difficult to guard against them.

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Fatal diseases spread by mosquitoes include malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis. In total, they kill roughly 725,000 people a year. Even more people suffer from mosquito-borne diseases without dying. With those numbers, they truly are the bringers of death and destruction.

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Humans

Are you all that surprised? No other animal comes close to being as lethal and dangerous as humans. We murder each other in the hundreds of thousands each year, not including casualties from war, and we murder large numbers of animals around us.

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Remember how scary hippos are? Sharks, bears, wolves, snakes — humans kill every one of these animals at a higher rate than they kill us, yet we still manage to view them as the evil ones. Perhaps it's time we start realizing our own fatal effect on the world.

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