It’s all fun and games until someone is killed by a shark. Or a bear. Or any of the other beasts that made it onto this list of the top 10 deadliest creatures in the United States. While fearsome animals such as cougars, or creepy critters like scorpions might seem to merit a place on the list, they were edged out by deadlier creatures. Some, like bears and sharks, are shoo-ins you’d expect on such a list. Others will probably surprise you.
Despite their clichéd ability to consume a Volkswagen in a single gulp, sharks only kill about one or two people in the United States each year. They make this list, but at the lowest rank — as if they were mere bottom feeders. Many of the victims had been swimming or diving at the time of the attack, although sharks are not above wrenching their lunch from boogie boards, surfboards or even kayaks. Despite the relative rarity of attacks, sharks may be the most feared creature on this list. Sharks ignite primal fear in many people thanks to movies such as Jaws as well as the more recent Soul Surfer, which detailed the story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack.
It’s no bull that big bad Toro kills about two people each year in the U.S., either through vehicle collisions or in bull-riding incidents. Bull riders run the risk of being trampled, gored, kicked, or any combination thereof. Bulls in the wild can also suddenly go berserk, as was the case of a young bull that attacked and killed 31-year-old Deanna Smith in 2010 on her Minnesota farm. One of Smith’s neighbors offered an explanation: “Bulls can do mean things.”
Bears have been responsible for about 30 deaths in the U.S. in the past decade. Grizzly and black bears are mainly to blame, but only because people have infrequent contact with lethal polar bears. The majority of deaths are campers, hikers, mountain bikers and other adventurers simply going about their adventures, although bears are also known to turn on their trainers, owners and caretakers, killing the hand that feeds them. In one notable incident, a 700-pound grizzly bear that appeared in the 2008 Will Ferrell movie Semi-Pro killed his trainer.
Sneaky, slithery and sleek, snakes are also deadly, killing roughly 10 people a year in the U.S. Contrast that with deaths from snakebites worldwide, which according to one study could number almost 100,000 per year. The rattlesnake holds the top killer slot in the U.S., despite its manic warning that can reach speeds of up to 60 rattles per second. Copperheads occasionally make a killing and, in one 2006 incident, an eastern coral snake was the killer, the first death attributed to that snake in the U.S. in 40 years.
6. Fire Ants
Each year, more than 9 million Americans are stung by fire ants. Annual death tolls for fire ants are not readily available, but verifiable deaths suggest they are quite deadly. In 1989 alone, 32 people were killed in Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia by fire ant stings, according to a report by the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology.
Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they are also one of man’s top killers. In 2010 alone, 34 people were killed by dogs in the United States, the website Dogbitelaw.com reports. Although some people claim pit bulls erroneously get a bad rap, pit bulls and Rottweilers are responsible for about two-thirds of the fatal attacks. Other breeds are not exempt, as even the cutest and seemingly harmless canines can kill. The Los Angeles Times reported an attack in 2000 in which a Pomeranian killed a 6-week-old baby.
Bees do more than bumble around pollinating flowers. Wasp, bee and hornet stings kill some 75 people each year in the United States. Most people who die from the stings suffer an allergic reaction, and in some cases, the individual may not have shown an allergic reaction to previous stings. And for those unlucky enough to stumble across a hive or nest, numerous stings can cause kidney failure and even death in people who are not allergic.
Overall, mosquitoes are the deadliest creatures in the world, killing as many as 1 million people each year with malaria in undeveloped countries. In the U.S., malaria is not a problem, but the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus killed 119 people in 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Contrary to popular belief, the elderly and infirm are not the only ones susceptible to West Nile, as it can kill even healthy middle-aged adults.
Steer clear of deer — the beauteous beasts can kill. According to CBS News, some 200 people in the U.S. are killed each year when their vehicle collides with a deer. There are an estimated 1.5 million deer/vehicle collisions each year in the U.S. Rural regions are most prone to deer collisions, especially in newly developed areas where deer have been chased out of their natural habitat. Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia have particularly high rates of deer collisions, although any rural area is fair game. Deer are most active right before and after sunrise, and in the fall and early winter. Although deer pose by far the biggest threat to motorists, vehicle collisions with moose, elk, bighorn sheep, horses and cattle account for more than a dozen driver fatalities each year in the U.S.
Man vs. man is more fatal than man vs. beast, with man taking the top slot on the deadliest creatures list. Approximately 15,000 murders are committed each year in the U.S., according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Major cities with the highest murder rates for 2009 were New Orleans, with a population of 336,000 and 174 murders; St. Louis, with a population of 355,000 and 143 murders; Detroit, with 361 murders (908,000 population); and Baltimore, with 238 murders (639,000 population).
One More: Alligators
Alligator attacks are particularly gruesome, but thankfully quite rare. Alligators killed about a dozen people in the United States between 2000 and 2010. Although their range is limited to the Southeastern United States, alligators can show up in the most unpredictable places in those areas — on porches, backyards and street corners — posing a real threat to residents and their pets.