The following is a list of 50 dangerous gulf coast animals that you need to be aware of if you live here or visit our beautiful gulf coast. I enjoy watching nature programs from the comfort of my home and thinking about how happy I am to be living where we don’t have to worry about being devoured by angry lions, trampled by panicked herds of wildebeest, or decimated by marauding hordes of insects. The truth is, however, we do have dangerous creatures lurking all around us here on the gulf coast. When it finally dawned on me we have some pretty fearsome critters hanging about, I sat down and started making a list of all the animals I could think of that have the potential to cause harm right here in my own neck of the woods. I bet you could think of a few more to add to the list, too.
You may be surprised to realize that it is the sweet gentle deer that are at the top of the list as the deadliest of all the mammals we have around. Deer–vehicle collisions are the cause of about 200 motorist deaths and more than a billion dollars in property damage every year here in the U.S.
No we don’t have grizzlies or polar bears, but we do have big ole black bears. They are more docile than their larger cousins and their numbers are relatively small, but it is still possible to wake up one morning and find a mama bear feeding her cubs from the contents of your garbage can, and you’d best keep your distance no matter how precious the little family appears.
Coyotes are also thriving in many areas along the gulf coast. While they are unlikely to go after grown-ups, they could conceivably harm our little ones and would most certainly pose a threat to our pets (watch the video) if they decide to hang out near our homes. Like deer, they can also cause you to have a wreck.
We also have an abundance of feral hogs in the marshes, swamps and woods all across the south. Hogs are known for their intelligence and tenacity, and while the boars appear to be the most menacing, my hunter friends tell me you need to be the most wary of a sow protecting her piglets.
Other Potentially Dangerous Mammals
Foxes and bobcats would not likely attack a person unless they were cornered, sick, or injured, but again, they may go after your pets or farm animals. There is also a subspecies of cougar called the Florida panther or puma that also calls parts of the gulf coast home. Their numbers are small, but growing. They can be found in parts of the Florida panhandle and there are rumors of a small group located in Alabama.
Mammals Carry Potential Rabies
When it comes to dangerous gulf coast animals cute little furry critters probably don’t come to mind. However, even raccoons and squirrels could cause harm. These small mammals hang out near people and they could potentially carry the rabies virus. Other not so cute furry creatures like bats, rats and the fleas that live on them can carry a wide range of diseases in addition to rabies.
Dinosaurs may be extinct, but they left behind some pretty intimidating descendants known as crocodilians. There are 23 species worldwide, and two of these call parts of the gulf coast home. They are American alligators and American crocodiles. The population of both groups had dwindled in the last century, but through intense conservation efforts, alligators are now thriving in swamps, rivers, and bayous across the south. American crocodiles remain endangered.
No list of dangerous gulf coast animals would be complete without mentioning alligators. Adult American alligators average 8 to 12 feet in length but can grow up to 15 feet or more. They can live up to 60 years and can be found in rivers, bayous and swampy areas far inland from the gulf. They prefer fresh or brackish water, but have been known to hang out on some gulf beaches and marshy tidal areas. Gators aren’t picky eaters, but fortunately they don’t have voracious appetites especially in colder months. There are about two or three known deaths from alligators every year in the United States. Many of the known deaths by gators were discovered hours or days after the person was killed, so that leads me to wonder how many gator attack victims are never found and remain missing persons cases.
Thankfully American crocodiles are far less of a threat to life and limb than their larger cousins in other parts of the world. They can and will devour anyone foolish enough to get too close, however. One article I read said that there have only been two cases of crocodile related deaths in the United States in the last few years, but I haven’t researched any reliable sources for that information. There have also been some verified reports of at least 2 Nile crocodiles being found in areas of south Florida. Authorities feel that these two crocs were probably brought into the US illegally and then either escaped or were deliberately released.
We have several species of poisonous snakes here along the gulf coast. The kind you are least likely to encounter is the coral snake. Coral snake numbers are dwindling, so they pose little threat to people. Also, it is not a pit viper and you are only likely to be bitten if you handle the snake or step directly on it without shoes or long pants. Coral snakes and harmless milk snakes look very much alike with both having bands of red, yellow, and black. Milk snakes have a black band separating the red and yellow, but on coral snakes, the warning colors of red and yellow touch together.
There are several kinds of pit vipers that make our dangerous gulf coast animals list including four species of rattle snakes —Eastern diamondbacks, Western diamondbacks, timber rattlers (also called canebreaks), and pygmy rattlers (also called ground rattlers). Other gulf coast vipers include cotton mouth water moccasins and copperhead snakes. Other harmless snakes are often mistaken and killed due to their resemblance to vipers, but in reality many of these other snakes help control the over population of poisonous species.
One other snake worth mentioning is the non-native Burmese python that has invaded much of south Florida. These large constrictors are a formidable predator and are even known to attack and devour alligators. They can grow to lengths of 20 feet or more and can weigh up to 200 pounds.
Sometimes it is the little things that cause the most problems. Both black widows and brown recluse spiders can cause serious problems for anyone unfortunate enough to be bitten by them and they are pretty common here on the gulf coast. While few spider bites result in death, their potent venom can cause muscle cramps, vomiting, festering wounds that take weeks to heal, and, in rare cases, respiratory distress.
Red imported fire ants are also a problem, especially for small children or elderly people who are more likely to remain too close to an active mound and may be bitten repeatedly. There have also been a few documented reports of someone dying from an ant bite due to severe allergic reactions to their venom, but this is rare. Carpenter ants can inflict painful bites, as well, fortunately the sting wears off fairly quickly. Red velvet ants, which are actually wingless wasps, can also make you wish you had stayed out of their way thus their nickname “cow killers.”
Check out my video about photographing small things like this red velvet ant.
Saddle-back caterpillars can also deliver a nasty injury. They inject tiny spines into your skin and this causes excruciating pain that takes hours to wear off.
Who would have thought that scorpions would make the list of dangerous gulf coast animals. But there are a couple that can be found here. Hentz Striped Scorpion do not deliver lethal injections (unless you are allergic to their venom), but their sting is still very painful and may send you to the hospital. They are one of a handful of scorpion species that prefer moist semi-tropical climates to arid habitats. The Hentz striped scorpion and the Southern devil scorpion both can be found in parts of Alabama, however the southern devil is more common from Central Alabama northward. The Hentz striped can be found in Florida and along the coastal plains of Alabama according to an Alabama A&M Auburn Extension Service article I read.
The bite of the kissing bug can give you Chagas disease. You many not even be aware that you’ve been bitten since they often attack people in their sleep. Chagas disease has two phases with the first phase being mild fatique, stomach upset, swollen eyes, or perhaps even no symptoms at all. The parasite that causes it, however, can lay dormant for years. If it later becomes active, it goes into phase 2 which can cause heart and digestive problems. The disease is treatable if it is diagnosed in the first phase.
There are also many species of wasps, bees, and hornets here on the gulf coast that can cause serious medical issues for some people. These include red wasps, paper wasps, yellow jackets, honey bees, and bumble bees. People that have known allergies must carry an epi-pen with them at all times.
Mosquitoes are a major source of concern for people living along the gulf coast. Historically, this tiny creature has been responsible for widespread diseases such as malaria and yellow fever that have nearly wiped out entire communities. Though we now have better methods of controlling mosquitoes, they are still responsible for many disease outbreaks including West Nile virus disease, Eastern equine encephalitis, and St. Louis encephalitis. More recently there have been cases of Zika virus reported in parts of the gulf coast. This disease is known to cause severe birth defects for infants born of mothers exposed to the disease. Our best defenses are to drain and cover. We should empty anything that holds standing water, cover our skin when we work or play outside and use screens on porches and windows to keep the mosquitoes out.
The last group of animals that make our dangerous gulf coast animals list are the ones we encounter at the beach or out fishing.
At certain times of the year, we have waves of jellyfish wash up close to shore. Fortunately they do not all sting, but enough of them do to make it worth your while to pay attention to purple flag warnings on your way to any gulf coast beach.
Some people group Portuguese-man-of-wars (also called blue bottles) in with jelly fish, but they are a totally different organism, or more precisely, a group of organisms. These creatures are actually floating colonies of individual cnidarians that appear to be one living organism. They can inflict powerful stings that cause respiratory and muscular problems for anyone coming into contact with them. If you see one lying on the beach, look but don’t touch, and stay out of the water since more of these lovely but potentially lethal creatures are likely to be floating among the waves.
Sting rays and manta rays are known to bury themselves in the sand close to the shore and pose a real threat to waders and swimmers. These animals can grow to enormous sizes and have barbed tails some of which inject painful even deadly venom.
Shark attacks are also a possibility, especially during peak feeding times that happen at dusk and dawn. Bull sharks, tiger sharks, hammer heads, and great whites have all been responsible for attacking people along the gulf coast. Bull sharks are even known to swim inland into fresher waterways. Divers also need to be wary of barracuda, they are especially attracted to shiny objects and may take a bite out of you thinking your jewelry is the reflective flash of a school of fish.
Lionfish are beautiful, but they have poisonous spines and they are invading our gulf waters at an astounding rate. These gorgeous menaces sometimes inhabit areas close to beaches and this poses a threat to people who love to play in the warm gulf waters.
Cone snails are one more dangerous marine animal worth mentioning. They can be found in waters along Florida and Texas. You are unlikely to encounter one on the beach with a living creature still inside, but if you do, drop it. The snail does have venom and like a bee or wasp sting, it is difficult to know how any individual’s immune system may react. Divers are more likely to encounter living specimens of these beautiful but toxic creatures.
While we should never become complacent about how safe our environment is, we should not let the thought of being bitten, stung, or attacked by wildlife keep us from exploring all our beautiful gulf coast has to offer. The truth is that we are more likely to cause our own selves injury through falls, poor diet, or high-risk habits like texting and driving, than to have an animal harm us. We just need to remember, we don’t inhabit this earth alone and many creatures around us have powerful defenses to use against anything or anyone who invades their space.