10 Things Lurking in the Woods that Could Kill YouSeptember 26, 2018
-Words by Arizton Pamplona of VentureSeekr-
A lot of us have been curled up in bed past midnight reading a scary article or story illuminated only by the light of our smartphones. As Halloween approaches, the more adventurous may find themselves around a campfire engaging in a spooky story. But beyond fictional Slender Man, Witches, and Zombie Pigmen, the wilderness is home to true creatures of concern. What's scarier than wild animals lurking nearby? Adventuring isn't always just fun and games. Some big and some small, here is our list of 10 things lurking in the woods that could kill you.
Always remember to exercise caution and keep your distance. At worst you want to have some nice nature photos (there’s a case that can help) to remember from your adventure. So pack up your camp food, spray on some bug repellent, and prepare your best impression of Quint from Jaws for your next adventure.
Some of the Most Dangerous Animals found in the Woods
Deadly Creature 1 – Wasps
Found in the wilderness and urban areas up in trees or underground, many people have bad memories involving these tiny terrors. While wasps do play an important role in natural pest control and pollination, a single sting is not only extremely painful for most, but may even result in death for someone with an allergic reaction.
Even if you aren't allergic, encountering a swarm or stumbling upon a nest of these insects (like this giant yellow jackets nest found in Florida) might trigger a defensive response from hundreds to thousands of angry wasps. Multiple stings require medical attention and may be fatal. If you encounter a wasp nest in the area, steer clear: avoid loud disturbances to nests.
Deadly Creature 2 – Bears
From cuddly toys to mindless villains, bears are viewed in different ways. As common campsite visitors, bears don't often attack. But as huge alpha predators, they definitely should be respected (there's a Wikipedia article titled 'Bear Danger'). Different species of bears display a wide range of aggression. Brown bears such as grizzly bears and Ussuri brown bears are have notorious reputations. Despite this, people often underestimate their strength and size compared to humans - their jaws and paws can easily crush body parts.
Your best bet to avoiding a bear encounter is to stay alert, make your presence loudly known, and hike in groups. If you’re hiking in an area where bears are known to inhabit, be sure to pack bear spray along with you, considered the most effective deterrent. Keep yourself and your property safe. This includes keeping food in bear-safe containers that prevent attracting bears to your campsite or car. Firearms won’t do you good – bears have thick skin which are good at resisting smaller bullets anyways.
Deadly Creature 3 – Snakes
Slithery and scaly, ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes) affects as much as 1/3 of the population. And for good reason too: snakes strike with precise timing and speed. And bites are a major health concern, with more than 50,000 people dying from venomous snake bites every year. Snakes live in a lot of environments as well, being present in every continent except Antarctica. Furthermore, some snake species are specialized with unique characteristics, such as spitting venom, camouflage, and constricting power.
As with all other creatures on this list, treat snakes with respect for your safety and theirs’s. Adventurers should exercise common sense. Keep your eyes open for disguised snakes on the floor, hanging off trees, or even while in the water. If you do encounter a snake out in the open, give it space to slither away, or find a different path yourself. Most snakes aren't interested in a meals as big as humans anyways, responding mostly in defense.
Deadly Creature 4 – Hippos
While they look big and blubbery, hippos are actually the one of the most dangerous land mammals. Despite their size, hippos move fast on land and water, aggressively attacking other animals and humans with very little provocation. Killing numerous people in Africa every year, hippos don’t only live on one continent. Notorious drug-lord Pablo Escobar once kept a small herd of hippos in his Colombian palace, only for them to escape and multiply. There are now over 30 living in Columbia, causing environmental and social problems for locals.
If you happen to be trekking through the African or Colombian wilderness, be sure to keep a safe distance from hippos and other wildlife. Male hippopotamuses are extremely aggressive and territorial, often fighting with each other and not afraid to target travelers. Hippo parents are especially protective of their calves, so don’t disturb their bond at any cost. It’s best to be accompanied by local wildlife experts, but if you end up hiking on your own, leave the area at the sign of any hippo dung or tracks.
Deadly Creature 5 - Spiders
Another feared creature, many people in the world have arachnophobia. Aside from their creepy appearance, some spider species have strong venom capable of killing adult humans. These include the black widow spider, the funnel web spider, the red back spider, and wandering spider. Less venomous species also have bad reputations, including the brown recluse spider. However, most spiders are totally harmless, with very weak and non-threatening bites.
Nonetheless, it's best for adventurers not to go handling any unidentified spider species at the risk of bites anyways. Safely catch and release spiders in your home, or simply avoid spiders you find in the wild to prevent bites. They are terrifying, but they’re also tiny. Spiders are more scared of us than we are of them. But if you do end up getting bitten, treat the bite and get emergency medical attention if necessary.
Deadly Creature 6 - Mountain Lions/Cougars/Panthers
Most large predatory mammals generally don't live near cities. But as people in the US expand beyond cities to build more homes or for recreation, encounters with cougars become more frequent. Ranging from Canada to the southern tip of South America, mountain lions are as big as adult humans. Despite their intimidating size, cougars tend to ambush and hunt deer and other smaller animals. However, mountain lion attacks are becoming more frequent, with quite a few recent deaths in North America.
Responsible adventurers should stay alert while in the woods or wilderness. Cougars are ambush predators, so keep your eyes and ears open. If you happen to encounter a mountain lion, don’t make any sudden movements and never take your eyes off of these animals as you walk away. If one charges you, spread your arms and make noise in order to scare it off.
Deadly Creature 7 - Moose
The largest species of deer, moose aren’t the gentle giants you expected! While bears are usually considered the animal to avoid in Canada and some parts of the US, moose are not to be messed with either. Moose usually graze on grass and leaves, but garbage thrown out by humans are becoming a more popular meal for them. This means that interactions between moose and people living up north are getting more and more common. Don’t be fooled by their usually calm demeanor – in Alaska, moose cause more attacks than grizzly bears and black bears combined.
Due to their size and habitat range, you can avoid moose and bears in a pretty similar way. Be sure not to leave food out in the open or offer food to moose. Moose attacks are increasing because they keep coming back to homes and locations where food is easy to find. If you encounter a moose of any size (they can get up to 1,500 pounds!), keep your distance to avoid getting trampled. Turning the opposite direction and getting out of there is your best bet.
Deadly Creature 8 – Ticks
Bugs that make your skin crawl - ticks are related to spiders and dust mites. But instead of making you sneeze or eating pests, ticks are like mini bear traps. Found mostly clinging to grasses and other vegetation, they bite and don't let go once they get you. This is a two-sided coin of sorts. Once stuck to your body, ticks expand while drawing blood, making them rather easy to find unlike fleas or bed bugs. On the downside, they may transmit sometimes deadly illnesses such as Lyme disease or tick paralysis. Tick-borne disease pack quite a nasty punch (or bite).
If you plan to adventure where ticks might reside, be sure to keep your skin covered with long sleeves and pant legs. Ticks often crawl to areas with softer skin, so make sure your sleeve openings or socks are rather tight-fitting. Always keep bug repellent with chemicals such as DEET on hand to prevent tick and bug bites of all sorts. After the adventure, be sure to shower right after you come back home from your adventure. This gives yourself a chance to wash off any ticks that haven’t done their dirty work yet, as well as check yourself over for any bites. If you find you’ve been bitten, carefully remove the tick with tweezers to the mouth, then preserve it in rubbing alcohol. Your doctor can tell you if you need more treatment.
Deadly Creature 9 – Crocodilians
There’s danger behind that toothy grin. There’s millions of years of development, too – crocodilians like alligators and crocodiles have been around in more or less their current forms since the dinosaurs. These dragon-like beasts are feared for good reason. The American alligator and saltwater crocodile have the strongest bites of any living animal. They’re also equally dangerous on water and land, catching unsuspecting prey in their jaws. As people build more homes closer to swamps and other waterways, alligator and crocodile attacks seem to be on the rise. As the apex predator of their ecosystems, they’ll eat just about anything they can catch in their powerful jaws – humans included.
Avoidance is the first and the best tip to preventing a croc attack. Don’t swim or go near any bodies of water marked as homes for crocodiles or alligators. If you end up in a boat over dangerous waters, don’t hang out over the sides at the risk of being chomped at from below. If you encounter one of these scaly creatures on land or water, back away slowly without making any movements to excite them. Move away fast after you get to a safer distance.
Deadly Creature 10 - Parasites
True tiny terrors. We've covered some dangerous insects and arachnids to avoid for your next adventure. But many dangerous parasites are too small to even see. From protozoa, fungi, and brain-eating amoeba, these menacing microbes come from a number of different sources. Some are environmental, while others hitch-hike on other animals such as rats. With such a diverse range of parasites, always research what you might encounter before your next adventure.
Because most parasites are identified and treated differently, there are some general rules you should follow while adventuring. Besides researching what to expect, make sure you drink clean, filtered water to protect your gut. Also avoid swimming in dirty or stagnant water to keep your ears, mouth, and other vulnerable areas free from dangerous microbes. While uncomfortable, you should also keep yourself covered to prevent any skin transmission. Consult with a medical professional before and after your adventure in case they have any preemptive warnings or follow-up treatments for you.
As we've discussed before (1, 2), safety should be an adventurist's first priority. When faced with creatures big or small, it's important to treat wildlife with respect and caution. But that doesn't mean you can't have a fun and fulfilling experience outdoors! If anything, you should learn to appreciate the unique characteristics of these animals.