With a plethora of Halloween ghouls and goblins lurking soon in the autumn darkness, it seems appropriate to list ten of the most dangerous animals a person may encounter outdoors while afield or afloat. Although they are not all deadly, the adrenaline surge of coming face-to-face with them certainly ranks high on the blood pressure scale.
While most of the following spooky creatures may come under the heading of rare animals, the likelihood of encountering them is far more likely than a person happening across a 30-foot long giant oarfish or a school of beached pilot whales.
So here they are, and with luck, you'll make it through the outdoor world this fall without ever knowing they were close at hand.
Few creatures are more scary or intimidating than scorpions, and their venomous sting can be a wallop or a whimper, depending on what species delivers the pop. While deaths from scorpions are rare in the U.S., it's reported that over 1,000 people die annually from them in Mexico, and many times that number worldwide.
There are 1,500 scorpion species, about 90 in the U.S. More than 40 scorpion varieties live in Arizona, the most deadly being the Arizona bark scorpion. While small at 3-inches, a bark scorpion sting can cause breathing difficulty, involuntary thrashing of limbs, and eye irregularity. A sting is painful, though rarely resulting in death in the U.S.
Scorpions are plentiful throughout much of the South, and are commonly encountered by hunters, campers, hikers and other outdoorsmen. Hunting lodges and established tent camps used by sportsmen and campers can be places where scorpions seek shelter. Care should be used in picking up objects in and around camp. Firewood piles may harbor scorpions, and care in fetching wood for camp is wise.
Image via Per-Anders Olsson
Too many outdoorsmen believe rattlesnakes inhabit only hot, dry areas of the south and west. But 32 species of 'rattlers, ' including the Timber Rattlesnake (pictured) exist throughout much of the Americas from Argentina in South America to Alberta and British Columbia in Canada. Some even are found in the suburbs of large metropolitan U.S. cities such as Tucson, Dallas, Pittsburg, Atlanta and even Chicago (yes, in northern Illinois the diminutive Massagua rattler thrives).
It's likely that most living creatures that happen across a rattlesnake instinctively know it is a thing to avoid. A rattlesnake's broad head, shaking-and-rattling tail, and sinister body language exude 'don't tread on me. '
Unfortunately, many rattler bites result from sportsmen placing hands or feet in places where snakes hide or hunt, and they strike out of defensive reflex action.
Rattlesnakes strike more humans than all other poisonous snakes in America. Most are not fatal, and many bites are so-called 'dry ' ones, meaning venom was not injected into the wound by the reptile. Nevertheless, all rattlesnake bites are serious, and should be treated by a physician as soon as possible.
Image via TJ Green
This year has been an unusual one for attacks on humans by black bears, and 12-year old Abigail Wetherell in northern Michigan experienced one of the scariest
. While jogging, she was chased and knocked down twice by a bear. Only by playing dead did the animal stop its mauling. If her screams had not been heard by a neighbor who chased away the bruin, she may not have survived the attack with only minor wounds to her leg.
While black bears are not as large or as aggressive as grizzly bears, black bears are far more numerous and widely distributed. Encounters with humans therefore are much more likely, and with black bear populations on a steady increase in many states, trouble with bruins is sure to be part of the wild outdoors for many years.
Bears that are not hunted and have become accustomed to humans are among the most dangerous and unpredictable. Sow bears with cubs also are a human threat, since they will attack with a vengeance to protect their young.
Image via Jon Sullivan
While many types of bees, hornets and wasps pack a potent and painful punch, the yellow jacket is especially dangerous to people outdoors because they are often found in huge colonies, and swarm and attack with the slightest provocation.
Hunters and hikers are especially vulnerable to attack, as huge yellow jacket dens often are below ground and can be accidentally stepped in along wooded trails. Deer hunters commonly encounter yellow jacket underground nests when prowling woodland areas. The insects often build nests in hollows at the bases of large trees, where hapless deer hunters may be preparing to erect a tree stand.
The sting of a single yellow jacket is painful. But when dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them attack outdoorsmen, the potential danger is very real. Death from multiple yellow jacket stings occurs annually in the U.S., exceeding that from many other more scary critters like snakes and bears. Hunting dogs are vulnerable to yellow jackets, too.
Image via Bob Peterson
While the great white shark is much larger and gets plenty more press, and the hammerhead looks more ominous, no shark is more abundant with wider distribution, or more dangerous to humans than the bull shark. In fact, scientists believe bull sharks are responsible for most near-shore attacks on humans, including many attributed to other species.
Average mature bull sharks are much smaller than whites, hammerheads and tiger sharks. Still, at an impressive 300 to 400 pounds and 8 feet in length, a bull is a deadly predator and very aggressive. They're widespread throughout the world in shallow, temperate waters, and are common predators on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S., and all of Mexico.
Unlike most sharks, bulls thrive in saltwater and brackish waters, and are able to survive in pure freshwater. They're responsible for fatal attacks in completely freshwater lake systems, most notably in Nicaragua where they're found hundreds of miles inland from saltwater. Bulls also have been found in the Mississippi River as far north as Illinois, and in the Ohio River as well.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Ticks pretty much come with outdoor territory, and are commonly encountered by many hunters, fishermen, campers and hikers. While most common tick or deer tick bites are of minor irritation, carefully removing them and cleaning the wound with antiseptic is wise.
Covering ticks with clear nail polish, allowing them to die, and removing with tweezers has been standard practice for many sportsmen over many years. Using the heat from a just-extinguished match also works at dislodging a biting tick, but care must be done to avoid burning flesh of the victim.
Simply squeezing a tick and pulling it with tweezers removes the bug from the bite site. But often the head of the tick remains, and can cause infection. Careful removal of all parts of a tick, and cleaning, disinfecting the bite is essential. A topical medical salve on the bite site is needed, too.
Some ticks carry Lyme disease, others Rocky Mountain or Colorado tick fever, which though rarely fatal, are very real hazards to health. An infected bite from a Lyme-disease-carrying tick quickly shows a telltale red bulls-eye mark. Immediate medical attention should be sought to thwart the disease in its early stages. If left untreated very dire health complications may result — sometimes years after the bite.
Image via Scott Bauer
As an aquarium species, the saltwater lionfish was pretty cool. But once this Indio-Pacific native reef species accidentally got loose in the Bahamas and South Florida, it spread like wildfire.
Today invasive lionfish are found almost completely throughout coastal Florida, have spread as far north as North Carolina, and along much of the Gulf Coast.
The 12 to 15 inch lionfish are voracious predators, displacing native reef species, and are a potential danger to man because their wispy dorsal and pectoral fins are venomous. Very bad news for divers or humans handling them after the fish are caught (they are edible and quite tasty).
Only very young children, elderly people and folks allergic to lionfish venom are in danger of dying from a sting. But nausea, vomiting, fever, convulsions and dizziness are common.
Divers working reef areas are most at risk from lionfish, at least today. But as the species spreads it could invade waters closer to shore, where human encounters are more likely.
Image via Daniel Dietrich
Not long ago in Louisiana, 13-year old Patrick Dodson was attacked by hundreds of fire ants while working in his yard with his mother, Donna. In ten minutes he was in severe pain. In 30 minutes he was swollen and numb, and his mother rushed him to an emergency clinic where he passed out. He was transported to a hospital where an ER team quickly went to work stabilizing him. His heart stopped twice, and he nearly died from massive doses of poison the small fire ants injected. A nurse lost count of the sting marks on Patrick when she reached 210.
Nearly 10 million people each year are stung by ants. Most are not nearly as life threatening as Patrick Dodson experienced. But outdoorsmen should be wary of tiny fire ants, since they pack a powerful venomous wallop, like that from a wasp.
What makes fire ants so deadly is that they live in enormous colonies, with many thousands of stinging insects clustered in huge, often-easy-to-see nest mounds. When a nest or mound is disturbed, fire ants instinctively attack, swarming the intruder in seconds, biting and stinging at a savage rate.
Fire ants bite, but they also have a thorax stinger, like a wasp, and each ant can sting multiple times. Within a short time stings swell, and becoming pussy and painful. Each sting is minor, but if dozens or hundreds occur, the result can be devastating.
Image via Scott Bauer
Brown Recluse Spider
A nail-biting Halloween movie could be made around the horrors of the brown recluse spider. Potentially more dangerous than any other American spider, and with venom on a par with that of a rattlesnake, the brown recluse poses potential major problems for sportsmen. Measuring only about a ½-inch in size, its identity is a violin-shaped mark on the head behind the eyes.
The brown recluse is widely distributed in the south-central United States. And sportsmen sleeping in old cabins, lodges and outdoor shelters are at risk, especially in the South where hunting and other fall activities are done in warm enough weather that spiders are still very active.
The victim rarely feels a recluse spider bite, until four to eight hours later when it becomes painful and itchy, worsening in 12 to 36 hours.
Some brown recluse spider bites form a necrotizing ulcer that destroys soft tissue and may take months to heal, leaving deep scars. The damaged tissue may become gangrenous and eventually slough away. Many bite victims have long-term debilities, pain and impaired mobility of limbs and extremities.
Image via Jeffdelonge
Alligators are part of the natural order of the South, and sportsmen who spend any time walking, fishing and hunting lowlands and river bottoms from the Carolinas to Florida, and along most of the Gulf Coast, are likely to encounter the oversize and toothy reptilians.
Chance encounters are common for fishermen, especially in water-rich states like Florida and in the bayou country of south Louisiana. Most often alligators will disappear once humans happen across them. But there are exceptions, and they don't always end well for people on the receiving end of big white teeth and up to 1,000 pounds of rough, armored reptile.
While alligators can reach over 13 feet in length, average adult size is about 8 feet. Anything longer than an immature 3-foot gator should be avoided. Alligators living in urban ponds, golf course lagoons and waterways where they have become used to humans are especially dangerous.
Image via Ken Thomas
Have you had a close call with any of these creatures? Share your best horror story with us in the comments or on Facebook!