As you wander across this bounteous continent, you might assume you’re relatively safe from the threat of wild animal attacks. And you would be right. Compared to say, Australia, where everything that moves is either venomous or a kangaroo, North America is pretty tame. However, there are still plenty of beasts, birds, and creepy-crawlies capable of maiming or killing you if you make the wrong moves — especially if you’re fond of the great outdoors.
1. Killer Bees
Biologist Warwick E. Kerr wanted to create a hybrid bee that would produce more honey, so he cross-bred European species with African ones. The result was the emergence of Africanized bees — better known as “killer bees.” They are a ruthlessly expansionist invasive species, tending to displace less violent species of bees wherever they go. And they’re equally ruthless when it comes to protecting their hives. They will swarm intruders, attacking in relentless droves, and have been known to chase humans down for a third of a mile or more.
2. Grizzly Bears
Grizzly bears are a subset of brown bears that range from Alaska, through Western Canada, and into the American Northwest. Females tip the scales at 500 lbs., while males can weigh 900 lbs. or more. Armed with large, powerful bodies and razor-sharp claws, we shouldn’t have to tell you to tread lightly around grizzlies. If you do encounter a grizzly (or any other bear), there are a few key things to keep in mind. 1. You cannot outrun a bear, so don’t try. You’ll only encourage it to pursue you. 2. Don’t scream. Instead, speak soothingly and wave your arms to let the bear know you are a human — not food. 3. Don’t make eye contact. Back away slowly if the bear isn’t coming toward you. 4. If attacked, play dead and try to keep quiet until the attack ends.
3. American Bison
Bison are one of the most dangerous animals in North America. They’re the deadliest thing you’re likely to encounter in a National Park — yes, arguably even more so than bears! Between 1980 and 1999, 79 people were gored by American Bison. Mercifully, only 1 person died, but I’m sure the other 78 would still advise you to stay out of a bison’s bad books. Bison will attack humans if provoked. Bison safety is mostly common sense. Never approach them on foot, and don’t get closer than 330 feet or so under any circumstances — even if you’re in a vehicle.
4. Arizona Bark Scorpion
As you might expect, these little critters are to be found in the Sonoran desert in the Southwestern US and in Mexico. Although all scorpions can deliver venomous stings, the Arizona Bark Scorpion is by far the most dangerous in North America. In the 1980s, as many as 800 people were killed by this scurrying menace. Bark scorpions are commonly found in the moister regions of the desert, such as near riverbeds.
One reason rattlesnakes rank so highly is their enormous range. You can find them most anywhere in the Americas, from British Columbia to Argentina. But the highest concentration is in the American Southwest and Mexico. Another reason rattlesnakes are dangerous, and becoming more so, is our own behavior. These snakes try to avoid heavily populated areas, but human expansion has led to campaigns of extermination against them (such as ‘The Annual Rattlesnake Roundup’).
6. Black Widow Spider
Various sub-species of the black widow are fairly common throughout the world. In the US, you will find them in the Northwest, in Southwestern states along the Mexican border, in the heartland and the South ranging from Ohio to the gulf, and in the Northeast. Black widow venom is a neurotoxin that attacks the nerves.Black widows are especially common in grape-growing regions, so watch out for them on your next vineyard tour.