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The Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals in Florida

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a librarian, teacher, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.

There are numerous animals that are capable of causing you harm in Florida, usually by biting you. Some animals use venom, while other dangerous animals just have big teeth and strong jaws.

I must emphasize, however, that most of these dangerous animals want nothing more than to be left alone and will not attack humans unless they are startled, feel threatened, or are trying to protect their young. If you respect them, they are very unlikely to attack you.

Some animals, such as the Florida black bear and the Florida panther, have suffered from shrinking habitats due to human encroachment over the years and are now endangered species.

This means they are more threatened by us than the other way around! Still, you should take extreme caution if you come in to contact with any of the animals in this article.

Top 10 Most Dangerous Creatures in Florida

  1. Spiders
  2. Florida Black Bears
  3. Sharks
  4. American Alligators
  5. Snakes
  6. Wild Boars
  7. Florida Panthers
  8. Fire Ants
  9. Jellyfish
  10. Fish

Note: At the end of this article, you will find information about what to do if you're bitten by a brown recluse, a Southern black widow, a venomous snake, or a fire ant. If you are hurt by any of the other animals on this list, seek medical attention immediately.

1. Spiders

There are two particularly dangerous spiders that can be found in Florida—the brown recluse and the southern black widow. Neither are outwardly aggressive towards humans, but they will bite if threatened.

The Brown Recluse

The brown recluse spider (also nicknamed the fiddleback spider, brown fiddler, or violin spider, because of its markings) is one of the most dangerous animals (fine, arachnids) in Florida. It may be small, but it has a venomous bite that can put you in the hospital or worse.

This spider has picked up the unusual tendency of playing dead, meaning as long as you're within their field of view—their eyes are on top of their heads, so they can only see above them—you can poke at one as much as you like without it moving. The danger is when you're on their level, and they suddenly become active again.

The spider's name comes from its tendency to seclude itself in dark recesses, such as damp piles of leaves or crumpled clothing and shoes that have been left untouched too long. Your chance of encountering one is Florida is relatively small, but you should always be aware of the risk, as the consequences of a bite can be very serious.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to diagnose this type of spider bite unless you feel it happen and correctly identify the spider as a brown recluse. There is also no known antidote for brown recluse venom, though certain treatments can be administered depending on the bite victims symptoms. Refer to the section at the bottom of this article for more details.

The good news is that the recluse is rarely encountered in Florida.

The Southern Black Widow

Southern black widows are much more common and can also be quite dangerous. Female southern black widows are bigger and far more venomous than males and can be identified by the distinctive red hourglass markings on their backs. Interestingly, the Southern black widow has a complete hourglass, whereas other species' hourglasses can range from connected or separated triangles to nearly indistinguishable red spots. Male Southern black widows don't have the trademark red hourglass shape at all but may have some red spotting.

While males survive a mere two to five months, females typically live to the ripe old spider age of 1.5 years. Females also weigh about 30 times more than their male counterparts.

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These spiders' webs are often three-dimensional and chaotic looking, unlike the classic flat, circular web pattern of many spiders. They generally frequent wood and rock piles, hollow tree stumps, garages, and basements, among other similar places.

How to Avoid Being Bitten by These Spiders

You can try to avoid both these spiders by wearing gloves when working in places where they might be living, such as sheds. You should also be careful when putting on old clothing, or footwear, and shake them out before wearing. Making noise (i.e. stomping on the ground) can also deter spiders.

Brown recluses can range in size, from little bigger than a penny to larger than a quarter. They tend to flourish in the same environments as humans. Great!

Brown recluses can range in size, from little bigger than a penny to larger than a quarter. They tend to flourish in the same environments as humans. Great!

2. Florida Black Bears

The Florida black bear is the largest land animal that you will find in Florida. They live in wooded areas. Although they were quite common before the arrival of Europeans in Florida, they are now an endangered species and are rarely seen.

Sadly, many of the state's remaining black bears are killed in automobile accidents. This is largely due to these bears losing their fear of people and becoming habituated and food-conditioned. Once this happens and they begin wandering into residential areas, it is highly likely that they will be killed, if not by vehicles then by illegal shooting or bear management actions aimed at protecting communities. Preventative methods—such as using bear-resistant trash containers or putting your trash out the morning of pick up rather than the night before—can help keep both bears and people safe. If you live in an area with lots of bears (even if they aren't Florida black bears), it would be wise to consider putting some of these methods in place.

A Florida black bear in Ocala National Forest.  It is illegal to injure or kill these bears in Florida.  These bears are Florida's largest terrestrial mammal, with the average male weighing in at around 300 pounds.

A Florida black bear in Ocala National Forest. It is illegal to injure or kill these bears in Florida. These bears are Florida's largest terrestrial mammal, with the average male weighing in at around 300 pounds.

3. Sharks

There are many different sorts of shark in the waters around Florida, including:

  • Blacktip Sharks
  • Spinner Sharks
  • Sandbar Sharks
  • Blacknose Sharks
  • Sharpnose Sharks
  • Bonnethead Sharks
  • Lemon Sharks
  • Nurse Sharks
  • Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks
  • Bull Sharks
  • Great White Sharks (though thankfully, these are rarely seen).

Fortunately, only the last two are known to cause serious damage to humans. This is partially due to their size, but also to the fact that they have teeth that are designed to shear rather than hold. Though being "held" in the mouth of any shark six feet long or larger is likely to lead to considerable injury, these attacks are very rarely deadly. Out of the 1,032 documented shark attacks in the U.S. since 1690, only 50 were fatal.

4. American Alligators

These large, water-dwelling reptiles pack a powerful bite and should be treated with extreme caution. They will almost always seek to swim away if approached, but I wouldn’t recommend taking any risks. If they think their young are in danger or they feel threatened in some other way, they are capable of striking out. They have also been known to mistake pets and small children for prey.

These reptiles should not be confused with crocodiles, although they can appear similar to the untrained eye. The easiest way to tell them apart is the snout, which is wider and rounded for an alligator, and more pointed for a crocodile. Crocodiles are also only found in the southernmost tip of Florida, whereas alligators can be found across Florida and the southeastern United States. Crocodiles are potentially dangerous too, although the American type tends to be much less aggressive than the African and Australian versions.

An alligator swimming in Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida.  Alligators have an exceptionally powerful bite.  They are naturally timid by nature, however, especially when compared with crocodiles, which tend to be more aggressive towards humans.

An alligator swimming in Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida. Alligators have an exceptionally powerful bite. They are naturally timid by nature, however, especially when compared with crocodiles, which tend to be more aggressive towards humans.

A young American alligator by Lake Alice in Gainesville, Florida.  Alligators have a very powerful bite, but are also naturally afraid of humans, so generally only attack when provoked or protecting their young.

A young American alligator by Lake Alice in Gainesville, Florida. Alligators have a very powerful bite, but are also naturally afraid of humans, so generally only attack when provoked or protecting their young.

5. Snakes

Out of the 50 species of snakes found in Florida, there are only six that are venomous and a danger to humans:

  1. Southern Copperheads
  2. Cottonmouths (a.k.a. water moccasins)
  3. Eastern Coral Snakes
  4. Eastern Diamondbacks
  5. Timber Rattlesnakes
  6. Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnakes (the most common venomous snake in Florida)

None of these snakes are inherently aggressive towards humans, and most want nothing to do with us. Unless they are cornered or basking in a particularly glorious spot of sun, these snakes are likely to skedaddle as soon as they "hear" you coming.

In addition to these venomous snakes that are native to Florida, there are also Burmese pythons to watch out for. These live in southern Florida and have bred as a result of irresponsible pet owners releasing them into the wild when they’ve become too large to cope with. Some are also thought to have escaped from zoos and houses during Hurricane Andrew. They have bred prolifically in recent years, and officials have estimated that there are somewhere between 5,000 and 180,000 pythons in the Everglades.

Florida's 6 Most Dangerous Snakes at a Glance

The information below refers to adult snakes. Check out this article about Florida's six most dangerous snakes for photos and more information.

1. Southern Copperhead

  • Size: 22-36 inches
  • Coloring: Pale to pinkish tan color overlaid with dark, hourglass-shaped crossbands.
  • Habitat: Damp, swampy areas; stream and riverbeds, and the surrounding hillsides; residential areas.
  • Bite Danger: Bites are very painful, but won’t usually kill a healthy adult.

2. Cottonmouth (a.k.a. Water Moccasin)

  • Size: 20-48 inches
  • Coloring: Dark brown, olive green, or even jet-black, with a dark line through the eye, bordered above and below by white.
  • Habitat: Always near, but not necessarily in, water.
  • Bite Danger: Bites are painful and can be fatal if left untreated.

3. Eastern Coral Snake

  • Size: 20-30 inches
  • Coloring: Bands of black/yellow/red/yellow/black (in that order) fully encircle these snakes' bodies.
  • Habitat: These snakes are primarily subterranean and can often be found hiding in people's homes. Even still, they are rarely encountered.
  • Bite Danger: These snakes seldom bite unless stepped on, sat on, or grabbed. When they do bite, however, all it takes is a single drop of venom to cause serious complications. Even if a bite victim does not immediately display adverse symptoms, they should be taken to the hospital for observation.

4. Eastern Diamondback

  • Size: 36-72 inches
  • Coloring: Brownish, brownish-yellow/grey, or olive color, overlaid with 24-35 dark brown/black diamonds with slightly lighter centers and outlined with a row of cream-colored scales. Yellowish/cream-colored belly with dark mottling on the sides.
  • Habitat: Slash pine/palmetto, longleaf pine/turkey oak, and sand pine/rosemary scrub (especially in areas with lots of gopher tortoises).
  • Bite Danger: Bites are extremely painful and can be fatal to humans. Antivenin is readily available throughout the snake's range, however, and bites are rarely lethal when treated.

5. Timber Rattlesnake

  • Size: 36-60 inches
  • Coloring: Brown and black chevron-like crossbands on a grayish background with a black tail.
  • Habitat: Lowland areas like marshes and swamps. These snakes only live in the northernmost part of Florida.
  • Bite Danger: With their large size, long fangs, and the capacity to deliver massive doses, a timber rattlesnake bite should be considered life-threatening. They can be treated with minimal damage, however, as long as treatment is administered very shortly after the bite occurs.

6. Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake

  • Size: 12-24 inches
  • Coloring: Grey with black blotches over its whole body and almost circular black markings on the middle of the back, with a dotted reddish orange line right down the center between each circular marking.
  • Habitat: Flatwoods and the areas surrounding lakes, ponds, freshwater marshes, and swamps.
  • Bite Danger: Bites are very painful, but are not normally fatal if treated immediately.

6. Wild Boars

Wild boars are the descendants of escaped domestic pigs that were brought over by the Spanish, possibly as early as 1539. These intelligent, feral hogs can weigh more than 300 pounds and be very aggressive. Though they primarily attack when they feel cornered, they have also been known to do so without any provocation.

Wild boars are omnivores and will eat pretty much anything they can get their hooves on (even manure and their own young). They have a special predilection for newborns and placenta (yuck) and will make a beeline for places where they can smell them, often leaving ranchers stripped of their newborn stock before they can register what's happened.

To make matters worse, wild boars carry a plethora of diseases and bacteria, like tuberculosis, pseudorabies, and anthrax, just to name a few.

An ancestor of the domestic pig, wild boars can be found throughout Florida. They are not indigenous to the area.

An ancestor of the domestic pig, wild boars can be found throughout Florida. They are not indigenous to the area.

7. Florida Panthers

This beautiful big cat is a subspecies of cougar and was chosen in 1982 as the Florida state animal. Its only natural predators are alligators and humans. Though it used to thrive in Florida's then-abundant swamplands, the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s decimated their population through deforestation, building, and so on. It is now one of the most endangered mammals on earth, with only 120-230 of them left.

Proportionally, panthers' hind legs are bigger than any other cat's, making it possible for them to jump up to 15 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally. Though the Florida panther is fiercely territorial, not a single attack on a human has been reported in the state's history.

Panthers are an umbrella species: Protecting them and the vast, unspoiled, wild territory each one needs to survive—an average of 200 square miles for a single male—protects many other plants and animals that live there. At the top of the food chain, these cats help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy.

— Defenders of Wildlife Foundation

Florida panthers, though immensely powerful, are generally uninterested in humans.

Florida panthers, though immensely powerful, are generally uninterested in humans.

8. Fire Ants

These insects are venomous and have a painful and irritating sting. It causes a red bump which can turn into a white pustule and become infected if scratched (the bites often turn very itchy the following day). Still, it's not a single fire ant bite that poses a serious threat; it's when a large swarm of them decides you look menacing and attacks that there's really something to worry about.

Though any blister resulting from a fire ant sting is an allergic reaction, some people react far more severely than others. In this case, fire ant bites can be life-threatening. Refer to the section at the bottom of this article for more details.

Fire ant bites three days after the encounter.  The stings swell into bumps or white pustules, which are irritating and itchy. If scratched, the pustules can become infected or cause scarring.

Fire ant bites three days after the encounter. The stings swell into bumps or white pustules, which are irritating and itchy. If scratched, the pustules can become infected or cause scarring.

9. Jellyfish

Though there are many species of jellyfish, only some of them have stings that cause a bad reaction in humans. Jellyfish stings can cause no pain, intense pain, or even death in some cases, and therefore they should be avoided whenever possible.

One of the most dangerous types is the box jellyfish, which boasts the most powerful venom in the ocean—an often lethal paralytic that works on the heart and nervous system. There are 20-30 known species of box jellyfish, and they come in a serious range of sizes, from less than an inch to a terrifying ten feet long (including tentacles). Regardless of size, this is one kind of jellyfish you don't want to run into!

Don't let the box jelly's size fool you; these little suckers pack a deadly punch.

Don't let the box jelly's size fool you; these little suckers pack a deadly punch.

10. Fish

Barracuda and marlin can both cause potential harm to swimmers. Although attacks on humans by barracudas are extremely rare, they can be confused into thinking that people are prey by shiny things such as diamond rings. Marlins are also reputed to be capable of causing harm, especially to fishermen.

It's not just the big fish that you need to look out for, however; the diminutive needlefish can be just as lethal! Though they typically weigh in at under a pound and measure just a foot long, their beak-like mouth is incredibly sharp (hence the fish's name). Though they aren't interested in attacking humans, that doesn't mean they aren't capable. They typically swim near the surface of tropical or mild coastal waters, but due to their slight stature, they are capable of brief flights or high-speed bounces above water when chasing or being chased, puncturing anything they encounter along the way. In 2010, a Florida kayaker suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung from an errant needlefish.

Large in size and fearsome in appearance, barracudas are opportunistic predators that consume large prey by ripping off chunks of flesh. They mainly eat fish and will compete with dolphins and other fish over smaller prey.

Large in size and fearsome in appearance, barracudas are opportunistic predators that consume large prey by ripping off chunks of flesh. They mainly eat fish and will compete with dolphins and other fish over smaller prey.

What If I'm Bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider?

It can be hard to identify brown recluse bites, as people rarely feel them happen and therefore miss spotting the culprit. It may also take several hours for any symptoms to manifest. However, if you start to notice any severe symptoms (especially between March and October, when these spiders are most active), you should seek immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of a Mild Brown Recluse Bite:

These are generally localized, a.k.a. restricted to the bite site.

  • Reddened skin (sometimes followed by a blister) in the affected area.
  • Minimal to sharp pain and itching for 2-8 hours following the bite.
  • Pimple-like swelling at the bite site.

Symptoms of a SEVERE Brown Recluse Bite:

These affect the whole body.

  • Fever and chills.
  • Full-body rash with tiny, flat red and purple dots.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Joint pain.
  • Appearance of an open sore and signs of necrosis (black, dead tissue) in the week(s) following the bite.

What to Do If You're Bitten by a Brown Recluse:

  • Call 911 or your local emergy number immediately.
  • Stay calm to avoid increasing the flow of venom in your blood.
  • Apply a cool, wet cloth to the bite site, or cover the site completely with a cloth and an ice bag. Whereas hot water generally breaks down venom, it only seems to make that of the brown recluse more potent.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Try to identify the spider or safely catch it to confirm its type.

What If I'm Bitten by a Southern Black Widow?

These bites are usually easier to identify, especially since severe symptoms often appear relatively quickly, within 30 to 60 minutes of being bitten.

Symptoms of a Mild Southern Black Widow Bite:

  • Mild to intense pain.
  • Swelling and redness at the bite site.
  • Small fang marks (one or two tiny red spots).

Symptoms of a SEVERE Southern Black Widow Bite:

  • Muscle cramps and spasms that originate at or near the bite site and radiate outwards and increase in severity for 6 to 12 hours.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweating.
  • Severe stomach, back, or chest pain.
  • Headache.
  • Restlessness or stupor.
  • Extremely high blood pressure.

What to Do If You're Bitten by a Southern Black Widow:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Stay calm to avoid increasing the flow of venom in your blood.
  • Apply a cool, wet cloth to the bite site, or cover the site completely with a cloth and an ice bag.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet.
  • Try to identify the spider or safely catch it to confirm its type.

What If I'm Bitten by a Venomous Snake?

Contrary to a "dry bite" venomous bites mean the snake has released poison into the bite site. Poisons in snake venom are meant to numb, stun, or kill their prey. While few venomous snake bites are lethal, it is still important to seek immediate medical attention if you develop any serious symptoms.

Symptoms of a Venomous Snake Bite:

  • Intense pain around the bite site (this may take time to develop).
  • Swelling, bruising or bleeding at the bite site.
  • Bite marks (these can be obvious or practically invisible).
  • Tender or swollen glands in the armpit or groin nearest the bite.
  • Tingling, stinging, or burning sensations on the skin.
  • Anxiousness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Blurred Vision.
  • Dizziness.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Belly pain.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Abnormal heartbeat.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Stupor.
  • Bloody gums.
  • Fainting.
  • Paralysis.
  • Coma.

What to Do If You're Bitten by a Venomous Snake:

  • Call 911 or your local emergy number immediately.
  • Stay calm and move out of the snake's striking range.
  • Remove tight clothing and jewelry before you begin to swell.
  • If possible, position yourself so that the bite is below heart-level.
  • Clean the wound and cover it with a clean, dry dressing. DO NOT flush it with water.

What NOT to Do If You're Bitten by a Venomous Snake:

  • DON'T use a tourniquet.
  • DON'T apply ice.
  • DON'T cut or otherwise attempt to remove the venom.
  • DON'T drink caffeine or alcohol.
  • DON'T try to capture the snake. Try to remember what it looks like, however, so you can describe it to your doctor.

What If I'm Stung by a Fire Ant?

Most people with severe allergies to fire ant venom start to display symptoms within several minutes of being stung. If left untreated, these allergic reactions can cause the body to go into shock, so be sure to seek medical help immediately if you are stung by a fire ant and begin displaying these symptoms.

Symptoms of a SEVERE Allergic Reaction to a Fire Ant Sting

It is normal for the areas immediately surrounding the sting to swell, burn, or itch, but if you develop the following symptoms, you may need emergency medical attention:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling of the tongue or throat
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

Note: Even if you don't have a severe allergic reaction to fire ant venom, be sure to keep a close eye on any symptoms. If you start experiencing severe swelling of the affected area, intense pain, or redness spreading from the affected area in the following days, you may still require medical help.

Home Remedies for Non-Severe Fire Ant Stings

Most people do not require medical treatment for fire ant stings. If the sting victim seems stable (and does not demonstrate any of the above symptoms), the following home remedies can be effective:

  • Apply cold compresses to affected areas to reduce swelling.
  • Use a hydrocortisone cream to ease itching.
  • Take an antihistamine to lessen allergic reactions and itching.
  • Apply a triple antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection in open stings.
  • Take an oatmeal bath to reduce itching.

Note: It is crucial to resist scratching the stings, as this can open the blisters and cause infection.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Which shark is the most common in Florida waters?

Answer: It really depends on the water and terrain, but if you are thinking in terms of beaches, then the shark that you are probably most likely to encounter is the blacktip shark. Other common sharks found in Florida waters include blacknose sharks, bonnethead sharks, bull sharks, great hammerhead sharks, lemon sharks, spinner sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, sharpnose sharks, and tiger sharks.

Question: Which wild animal in Florida causes the most fatalities?

Answer: You may think that the answer is going to be alligators, snakes, spiders, or bears, but it is actually deer that cause the most human deaths, mainly through vehicle collisions.

Question: What are the most deadliest animals in the world?

Answer: Mosquitoes kill more people than any other creature found in the wild because of the diseases they spread. Other potentially deadly animals found around the world include deathstalker scorpions, cape buffalo, box jellyfish, black mamba snakes, and saltwater crocodiles.

Question: What animal lurk around trailer parks in Florida? Are there hyenas in Florida?

Answer: There are many wild animals that could possibly be found around a trailer park in Florida, examples being foxes, raccoons and opossums. Coyotes have been living in Florida since the 1970's. There is also the possibility of domestic dogs that have gone feral. There are no hyenas in Florida.

Question: How many types of animal live in Florida?

Answer: There are around 700 vertebrates and over 30,000 invertebrates who make their home in Florida. In terms of mammals, there are 98 species found in the wild, including bobcats, panthers, foxes, skunks, bears, bats, beavers, squirrels, deer, armadillos, manatees, whales, and dolphins.

Question: What dangerous animals are on Florida's Daytona Beach in March and April?

Answer: I wouldn't be too concerned about sharks, you are unlikely to encounter them, especially if you stay in shallow waters and don't go too far out from the beach. Stay away from anything that looks like a jellyfish: the man o' war (technically not a "true" jellyfish); cannonball jelly; and the moon jelly all deliver painful stings.

Question: Which fish in and around Florida are the most dangerous?

Answer: Barracuda and marlin are both capable of causing harm to humans. Although attacks by barracudas are very rare, they can be confused into believing that swimmers are prey due to shiny things like jewelry. The small, but potentially lethal needlefish is another fish of which to be wary. Their beak-like mouth is super sharp (hence their name). If you get in their way, you run the risk of serious injury.

© 2011 Paul Goodman

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