Here are 50 bad boys–and girls–that may ruin an otherwise grand day outdoors. Avoid them at all costs, or pay a painful price. Yellow jackets nesting belowground can number in the thousands. Disturb them and they’ll swarm, attack and ruin your day–and quite possibly your life.
Wild hogs get a lot of press for being big, bad and abundant. They deserve the hype, and are equipped to put a “hurtin’ on ya”–as they say in wild pig country.
There are more than 1,500 species of scorpion worldwide. Not so many are in the U.S., but they pack a wallop of a sting and are of the stuff of nightmares.
Ah, the python. Though hit hard by winter’s severity in South Florida last year, they’re still are slithering along just fine, thank you very much. Well over 100,000 are still flourishing in the wilds of the Sunshine State, and they stretch to more then 18 feet long.
Black bear numbers have surged in recent years, and they are currently in a woodlot near you. One recently was discovered only a few miles from New York City.
Other shark species get more press, but bull sharks are big, abundant and are certified man-eaters.
The hag moth, or “monkey slug,” caterpillar is about a half-inch long and looks harmless enough. But don’t touch it–it packs a powerful sting.
The American alligator has a much larger population distribution than many people believe, extending from Mexico along the Gulf Coast states up through the Carolinas. Everywhere they are a potential hazard, as any toothy lizard that grows to half a ton would be.
Rattlesnakes have a much larger range than many people realize. Some variety of rattlesnake is found in almost every state, and in Canadian provinces as well. Watch your step!
Cougar populations are increasing annually, and hikers and mountain bikers regularly encounter them. Watch your back!
The brown recluse spider is a bad dude that doesn’t get nearly enough press. Its bite eats away human flesh, and can take many weeks to recover from. The spider is commonly found in cabins and older homes, places where people live. Shake your clothes out before putting them on, and don’t reach into dark cabin corners.
Portuguese man-of-war are beautiful and commonly wash up on U.S. beaches. Their long tentacles are poisonous, however, and can make a day at the beach a real pain.
The distinctive and beautiful saddleback caterpillar has stinging hairs all over its body, especially on the “horns” that poke out at either end. Their hairs can inject venom from poison sacs carried at their base, and the very painful sting can cause humans problems for days. They’re common throughout the eastern U.S. from summer into fall.
The cottonmouth water moccasin is one of the more aggressive venomous snakes in the U.S. Abundant throughout the Southeast–living near lakes and rivers, creeks, bogs and marshes–the moccasin is a fearsome snake.
The America bison isn’t common, but in places like Yellowstone National Park, the animals injure more people annually than bears. Death is not uncommon when tourists having a Kodak moment get too close to a one-ton bull.
Tarantulas look more dangerous than they really are, but their bite is painful, and campers in arid areas are wise to check their clothing and shoes before dressing for a day outdoors.
Coastal fishermen commonly catch stingrays while fishing bait on bottom. Most are easily released by cutting the fishing line, but watch that tail. The stinger is large and the tail extremely flexible. The sting is excruciatingly painful, but can be quickly neutralized by pouring hot water into the wound. On a boat, the water jet outflow from an outboard is a serviceable hot water antidote.
African bees have invaded much of the Southern U.S., pushing out native honeybees. They’re extremely aggressive, attack in large swarms and can be deadly.
South America isn’t the only place where anacondas live. They’re in South Florida, too, like the python. Because of its size and enormous water habitat, the Sunshine State is destined to have the big reptiles for a long time to come.
The woolly, pussycat-like appearance of the puss caterpillar belies the numerous sharp, venom-laden spines hidden beneath its luxuriant coat of soft hairs. Because these caterpillars appear as innocuous pieces of fluff, children and adults are easily tempted to pick them up. These innocent-looking critters have the power to make grown men cry in agony. Its sting can trigger an immediate onset of excruciating, unrelenting pain, radiating to the lymph nodes in the armpit or groin, and then to the chest. Though only rarely representing a true medical emergency, these symptoms have the feel of a genuine, serious, life-threatening event. As a result, it is common for victims of puss caterpillar stings to seek medical assistance at hospital emergency rooms.
Although revered almost everywhere they thrive, a bull moose weighing a ton or more is nothing to mess with. Hikers and fishermen commonly encounter moose, and while rarely does danger ensue, do not get between a bull and a cow, or between a cow and a calf. Keep your distance.
Black widow spider bites are severe and the insects are common throughout much of the world and all of the United States. Its bite is 15 times more severe than that of a rattlesnake, but deaths are few. Most at risk are children and people in ill health.
Rare is the U.S. citizen who encounters a great white shark, but one bite can ruin your day. This famed star from the movie Jaws is a showstopper, with weights pushing two tons and lengths three times the height of a man.
Copperheads account for more than one-third of all venomous snake bites in the U.S., but the odds of dying from a copperhead bite is only one in about 5,000. Still, beware of this beautifully colored reptile, found from Mexico to Illinois, New York to Florida.
The three-quarter-inch-long spiny oak caterpillar comes in a wide variety of colors, and ranges from Quebec to Florida, Texas to Missouri. Its spines have poison and some people stung by them have a severe allergic reaction. Place tape on a sting area to remove the spines, and put ice on the site to reduce pain and swelling. If an allergic reaction continues, seek medical attention immediately.
Every outdoorsman tangles with mosquitoes, but be warned that they are responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other bug or animal. In the U.S., disease is rarely spread by mosquitoes. Still, West Nile virus, encephalitis and other deadly diseases are transmitted to humans via mosquito bites.
Gila monster bites are rare, occurring mostly in very arid states of the Southwest. But the rugged-looking lizards have neurotoxic venom–like a cobra’s–and that’s nothing to fool around with.
The mud dauber is a large wasp with a stinger, but it’s a solitary and non-aggressive bug that rarely pesters humans. But mud daubers do pose a danger, however, when they build their mud nests in aircraft vents. More than one small airplane has suddenly fallen from the sky because a fuel line was clogged by a dauber den.
The smeared dagger moth caterpillar has an ominous name, and it packs a painful sting in its hairs. It can vary in color, but look for yellow patches along each side and raised red spots on its back. The smeared dagger moth caterpillar is known as the smartweed caterpillar, for one of its preferred host plants. It inhabits beaches and marshes from Florida to Texas to California.
Thankfully the American crocodile has a limited range, primarily wild areas in South Florida. They’re extremely aggressive, and in Everglades National Park have been known to steal and eat sportfish hooked and played by anglers.
Gray wolf populations have boomed in recent years, and many outdoorsmen believe that one day gray wolves may be as common as black bears throughout much of America. Today, the Rocky Mountain West, Canada, Alaska, parts of the extreme northern Midwest and Northeast are where they’re prevalent. In packs, they are fearsome.
Several varieties of coral snake inhabit the U.S., mostly in extreme southern climates. Bites are rare but dangerous–the neurotoxic venom is the same as a cobra’s.
Ticks are common almost everywhere in the U.S., and their bites are a nuisance, and can spread dreaded diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
Hornets have good-size nests and, if disturbed, will swarm, attack and sting. The potential for disaster is great, and they should be avoided when possible.
No predator is more fearsome-looking than a hammerhead shark. This proven man-eater is unpredictable, abundant and grows huge, commonly weighing up to 1,000 pounds and growing 15 feet or more.
Aahhhh, the little coyote. Chilling to hear at dawn and dusk as they yodel and chase deer. But in big packs, at night, if you’re camped outdoors–well–watch your back.
Boa constrictors are popular pets, but when they get too big and owners release them into the wild, they are a potential problem. Plenty of them are found living wild, big and free in South Florida, roaming right beside pythons and anacondas.
The io moth caterpillar is another little bugger full of stingers that can be a real pain. Allergic reactions can occur, and medical attention needed. It’s commonly found from Florida and Texas and up to Canada. It feeds on a wide variety of trees, plants and grass. Leave it alone!
Every farmer will tell you to “stay outta the bees.” They make delicious honey, but have the potential to swarm, sting and send you to an early grave.
The beautiful and big tiger shark can eat a man whole. Even juveniles are dangerous, and can take 50-pound bites of meat from a target. They weigh up to nearly a ton, are found worldwide, and in the U.S. are seen from New England through Florida, the Gulf Coast and California.
Wasps of various types are common throughout America, and they sting people daily. Because big nests are common, and are often found in old buildings, boat dock areas and cabins, potential for multiple stings is very real and very dangerous.
While the spines from almost any catfish can cause a nasty, painful wound, the marine gafftopsail catfish has especially venomous dorsal and pectoral fin spines. Fishermen often catch “gafftops”, and handling them is not advised. Some people who cut lines and have the fish land on a dock or boat kick them back into the water, but a fish spine can penetrate their shoe and result in a painful sting. Medical treatment is sometimes needed, and an allergic reaction can occur.
Everyone knows that bumblebees–those black-and-yellow buzzers–have stingers, but rarely do they seem life-threatening. But if you stumble upon a nest and rock their cradle, they turn ugly fast and multiple stings are the result.
Raccoons have that cute face and cuddly look, but trust them not. In many regions, especially Florida and the Deep South, the vast majority of raccoons are rabid, and in urban areas they are unafraid of man. Watch your pets, too, as a big coon can make quick work of most dogs and, of course, cats. They are tough, fast and have a mouth full of bad teeth.
Fire ants are tiny wingless wasps that have a potent venomous stinger and mandibles with poison, too. One ant is a pain, but they swarm fast and bite often. Allergic reactions are common, and deaths have resulted, with some cases showing victims with more than 3,000 stings.
Feral or wild dogs are a serious problem throughout the United States. Once a dog “goes wild” and has pups, after a generation or two, well, they’re wolves that look like Fido. They’re smart, aggressive and rarely fearful of man. Mostly they prey on deer and small game animals, but don’t corner them or disturb them when over a “kill.”
The botfly is so small, it uses a common house fly as a larval host. But they stick to people, too, and are plenty yucky when discovered emerging through your hide. They won’t likely kill you, but you may want to die when having one extracted.
The stinging rose caterpillar is commonly found on rose, apple, cherry, oak, hickory and dogwood trees from New York to Illinois, Texas to Florida. Its black-tipped spines have poison glands at their base, and when touched cause pain described as some of the most severe from caterpillars in North America. Colors vary from yellow to red.
Brown widow spiders have venom twice as potent as a black widow’s venom. However, they do not inject as much venom as a black widow, are very timid and do not defend their web. The brown widow is also slightly smaller than the black widow. It ranges through the South, and has been found in Australia, South Africa, Cyprus and Japan.
Walk carefully in grizzly country. Sows and cubs are out-and-about throughout much of the northern Rocky Mountains during summer. Steer clear of them. Click here to view the aftermath of some of the Deadliest Bugs >>