Whether you’re in the water, on a mountain trail, or in your backyard, wildlife you encounter have ways of protecting themselves and their territory. One method of defense involves biting or stinging. The wounds can range in severity from the bite of a shark or venomous snake to the sting of a wasp or yellow jacket to the annoying itchy bump resulting from a mosquito bite. Regardless of how severe the attack, a variety of complications can result if the wound is left untreated or not treated properly. Prevention is certainly the best medicine, so knowing how to recognize and avoid biting and stinging animals or insects is the best way to stay safe.

The animals you should recognize and understand depend very much on where you live or where you’re visiting. Different regions of the United States are home to many of these creatures. Season also matters: mosquitoes and stinging bees and wasps, for example, tend to come out in force during the summer.

Although not comprehensive, here are some animals and bugs that can be dangerous.

Poisonous Snakes

Pit vipers and coral snakes are two types of poisonous snakes that are indigenous to the United States. Pit vipers account for 98% of venomous snake bites in the U.S. The three types of pit vipers include:

  • rattlesnakes
  • cottonmouths (water moccasins)
  • copperheads

Biting and Stinging Insects, Arachnids, and other Bugs

Bugs that Bite

Many bugs bite, but only a few do so intentionally. Most bites are relatively harmless, leaving just an itchy patch of skin behind. Some, bites however, can carry disease; Lyme disease, for example, is typically carried by ticks. Intentional biters include:

  • ticks
  • chigger mites
  • scabies mites
  • bed bugs
  • fleas
  • head lice
  • pubic lice
  • horse flies
  • black flies
  • bed bugs
  • mosquitoes

Many larger insects and other bugs won’t seek you out, but will bite if handled.

Spiders

These include many types of spiders, some of which have poisonous fangs. Poisonous spiders found in the U.S. include:

  • brown recluse spider
  • black widow spider
  • hobo spider
  • grass spider
  • mouse spider
  • black house spider
  • wolf spider

Stinging Insects

Insects will sting humans only as a defensive move against a perceived threat. Typically, a bee or stinging ant’s stinger will be accompanied by a small amount of venom that, when injected into your skin, causes most of the itching and pain associated with sting, as well as any allergic reaction. Common stinging insects in the U.S. include:

  • bees
  • paper wasps (hornets)
  • yellow jackets
  • wasps
  • fire ants

Scorpions

Scorpions have a well-deserved reputation for stinging. Many species of scorpions have barbed tails equipped with poison; 25 such species worldwide have poison capable of killing a human being. The most venomous species of scorpion native to the United States is the Arizona bark scorpion.

Dangerous Water Creatures

From the deepest seas to shallow inland ponds, the waters of the earth are teeming with unique creatures, many of which are dangerous to humans. These range from aggressive animals that bite to poisonous fishes and invertebrates like jellyfish that can sting to crabs that are poisonous to eat.

Biting Water-Dwelling Animals

Perhaps the most feared sea-dweller is the shark. However, there are hundreds of species of sharks, many of which are not at all dangerous to human beings. Only a select few have been known to attack humans, and even these shark attacks are few and far between:

  • great white shark
  • tiger shark
  • bull shark
  • mako shark
  • oceanic white tip shark

Other water-dwelling animals that may bite if provoked include barracuda, crocodiles, alligators, caimans, sea lions, moray eels, octopus, and squids.

Stinging Fishes

Some fish have venomous fins or other body parts:

  • lionfish
  • scorpionfish
  • stonefish
  • stingray
  • catfish
  • surgeonfish
  • weeverfish

Jellyfish and Other Invertebrates

Many jellyfish are venomous, including the very dangerous Chironex  (AKA deadly box jellyfish) and the Portuguese man-of-war. Other venomous invertebrates include fire coral, sea anemones, stinging seaweed, and sea urchins.

Other Venomous Water Creatures

Other types of water-dwelling animals that have the ability to bite or sting include:

  • blue-ringed octopuse
  • cone shell
  • crown of thorns starfish
  • sea snake
  • sponge
  • sea worm

Larger Land Creatures – Both Wild and Domestic

Many wild large land-dwellers, such as bears and large cats, can be dangerous. Even less fearsome-seeming animals, such as deer, can be dangerous in certain situations.

Large land animals are rarely spotted in the wild, and are unlikely to attack unless the animal is provoked or feels threatened. If you come across a large mammal or other animal, do not approach, feed, or follow it. Although an animal may look tame and friendly, if it is wild, it can act unpredictably.

Closer to home, bites, scratches and other injuries suffered at the hands of domesticated animals like cats and dogs are not uncommon. For example, an estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur every year in the United States. Luckily, these are rarely dangerous. Nevertheless, cat and dog bites can become infected (animal saliva can carry harmful bacteria), so if a household animal bites you, wash and disinfect the wound carefully and visit a doctor as soon as possible.

More Resources

Is My Bee Sting Infected?

Recognizing Fish that Sting

Questions About Snake Bites

Avoiding Shark Attacks

Are Sea Lion Bites a Concern?

Avoiding Alligator Attack

When to Carry Bear Spray

Are Sting Rays Poisonous? 

Recognizing Dangerous Jellyfish

Avoiding Poisonous Sea Urchins

Copperhead Snakebites

Dog Bite Deaths

Avoiding Mountain Lion Attacks