Strange Science: The Most Deadly Animals in America


Which animals do you think kill the most people in this country? Big, hungry bears? Sharp-toothed sharks? Diamondbacks (the rattlesnakes, not the baseball team)?

According to the latest scientific research, none of those even come close to the death toll inflicted by certain critters you encounter around here all the time.

A study recently published in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine recently tallied the number of people who died from injuries inflicted by animals between 2008 and 2015. Then, researchers compared that number with a similar study done in 2012, finding the totals to be about the same.

The new study found that 1,610 people were killed by animals in the U.S. in that time period; causes of death included bites, contact, attacks, and envenomation (injected of venom); most of the fatalities involved non-venomous animals. Overall, 2.8 people per million were killed by animals.

Now, for the surprising part. The vast majority of victims were not done in by scary wild animals; rather, the usual suspects are horses and cattle, according to a press release from that journal. (

The press release cites other studies that have found that most deadly human vs animal encounters happen on farms, and that horses and cattle are involved in 90 percent of farm accidents.

But, let us not forget the notorious “killer bees”. “Killer bees” are actually African honey bees found frequently in western and southern states; they are especially deadly when they attack in a swarm. They are part of a group called Hymenoptera, which also includes wasps, hornets, and regular bees, and is responsible for 30 percent of the fatalities reported. People can die from allergic reactions to the venom injected by their stingers. “The most common animal-related fatalities are from large mammals, like cattle or horses, but when you’re looking at attacks from wild animals only, the most common cause of death are due to venomous animals, like wasps or bees,” lead investigator Dr. Jared A. Forrester told CNN in an interview about the 2012 study. “I think people have in their mind that the most dangerous animals are cougars, bears or alligators, but a bee is more dangerous if a person is predisposed to a reaction.”

The third largest group of killer animals may be a heartbreaking surprise to those of us who are dog lovers. Dogs are the cause of 4.6 out of every 10 million human deaths. The scientists found that youngsters and oldsters are the people most likely to be killed by dogs. Kids under the age of four have the highest rate of death by dog. Senior citizens come in second.

Now, it’s important to keep these figures in perspective. “In many ways, the data is pretty reassuring,” Forrester told CNN. “The most common cause of death are not the scariest things, necessarily, but they are the most common interactions we have with farm animals and they are preventable.”

As with so many things in life, knowledge is your best defense. Scientists suggest more public health programs and education to help reduce farm fatalities. If you know, or suspect,  you are allergic to bee, hornet, or wasp stings, carry an EpiPen, and try to avoid annoying these insects. As for dogs, don’t leave them alone with the very young or the very old.

About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.