What are the most dangerous animals found in Alaska?
It can be hard to decide what to consider dangerous. For example, you may consider an animal that bites or stings dangerous, but someone else is more worried about animals that cause car accidents! So with that in mind, I tried to include a mix of creatures that are dangerous for different reasons.
Remember that no matter what animal you encounter, it’s likely more scared than you are. Animals don’t want to mess with us, and it’s best to leave them alone and give them the space they deserve.
11 Dangerous ANIMALS IN Alaska:
- Family: Culicidae
Despite their small size, mosquitoes are arguably the most dangerous animal in Alaska!
These small, blood-eating flies are a nuisance all over the world. And while some species don’t bother humans, while others can be dangerous carriers of different types of disease.
For example, some mosquito species are vectors for diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Zika, or West Nile Virus. Other species target pets or livestock, transmitting heartworm, Equine Encephalitis, and other diseases that affect animals.
There are three main ways to prevent mosquitos from spreading disease:
- Eradicating or controlling the population of mosquitos prevents the spread of diseases at the source.
- Vaccines or prophylactic drugs can help curb infection rates, even if people or animals are still bitten by mosquitos.
- Mosquito netting, insecticides, and bug repellents can be used to keep mosquitos away and prevent bites in the short term.
All of these options work quite well, but using them all in tandem is the best way to stay safe from mosquito-borne illness. Always make sure you wear insect repellent when you hike or camp!
- Ticks are round insects with an elongated “snout-like” mouth and eight legs.
- Their coloring varies from brown to black, sometimes with reddish or white markings.
- These insects drink blood, and their bodies swell as they become full.
Ticks are definitely one of the most dangerous animals in Alaska.
These blood-eating creatures sometimes live indoors, but they’re most commonly found in grassy or wooded areas with water nearby. They wait on tall grasses for a host to pass, then jump onto the living creature and attach to start feeding.
Different types of ticks prefer different hosts, but in general, a tick will attach itself to any blood source, including domestic dogs, livestock, stray pets, birds, and, of course, humans. Interestingly, a few species can live for years without a source of blood.
These insects are considered dangerous animals because they can spread disease when they pierce your skin. Although there isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s accepted that the longer a tick is attached, the higher the risk of infection. So if you notice a tick on your skin, you should remove it with a tick key, wash the area with soap and water, and contact your doctor.
Some of the most common tick-borne diseases are:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: high fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, and rash
- Tularemia: bite infection, fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes
- Tick Paralysis: respiratory distress, paralysis
- Powassan Virus: brain infection (encephalopathy) leading to death
- Lyme Disease: Fatigue, headache, joint and muscle pain, fever, and chills
- Alpha-gal: delayed allergic reaction to meat, including anaphylaxis
- Various canine and equine diseases, which can harm pets and livestock
#3. Wasps (Yellowjackets and Hornets)
- Genus: Vespa & Vespula
Wasps, or what most people in Alaska call Yellow Jackets or Hornets, are species of insects that have a reputation for being angry, aggressive, and targeting humans. So it’s no wonder they’re considered dangerous animals! These stinging insects can be a nuisance and a real pain (literally).
Remember, though wasps are aggressive and can be unwelcome picnic guests, they’re still important pollinators. So, unless they’re nesting in a dangerous area or preventing you from enjoying your yard, try to give them space to continue “bee-ing” themselves. 😉
Here are a few key ways to tell wasps apart from bees:
A. What they eat: Wasps are carnivorous hunters and scavengers. While they’re attracted to sweet things like flower nectar and your open soda can, they want to eat the OTHER insects that are also looking for a meal.
B. How they act: Generally, wasps like yellow jackets and hornets are much more aggressive than most types of bees. They will buzz close to humans and even ram into us, looking for a meal or marking their territory. If they feel threatened or provoked, they will sting as well. This can cause an anaphylactic or allergic reaction in some people.
C. Their appearance: Wasps have some specific traits that make them easily identifiable compared to most bees. Instead of hair, they have spines on their legs, which are long and often bright yellow. In addition, their bodies are elongated, and the space between their thorax and abdomen is narrowed, giving them the look of a tiny waist.
- Canis latrans
- Adults range in length from 3 to 4.5 feet and weigh between 15 and 44 pounds.
- Their coloring is grayish to yellow-brown on top with white underparts.
- They have bushy tails, large, triangular ears, narrow muzzles, black noses, and yellow eyes.
Sometimes, a Coyote will go after pets like small dogs or cats, but only if they’re left unattended. The best way to avoid Coyotes is to keep your pets on a leash outside and bring them in before dusk.
Sadly, Coyotes are commonly hunted and trapped for fur and sport. Many people incorrectly assume these animals are dangerous to humans, but this isn’t the case.
Coyotes have a large range in North America and are found in various habitats, from the tropics to the tundra. Coyotes expanded their range after European settlers’ near extermination of wolves and cougars.
As with habitat, Coyotes are highly versatile in their food selection. Despite being primarily carnivorous, they consume various plants, including berries, grass, and food crops. They will eat almost anything, and this extensive menu allows them to thrive in nearly every environment in Alaska!
#5. American Black Bear
- Ursus americanus
- Adults range from 5 to 6 feet tall and weigh 200 to 600 pounds.
- They have flat backs, small heads, rounded ears, and non-retractable claws.
American Black Bears occupy various habitats in Alaska but generally prefer inaccessible terrain.
Black bears are sometimes considered a nuisance because they can damage cornfields, honeybee hives, and berry farms. In addition, they‘re easily attracted to garbage, bird feeders, and coolers. Make sure NEVER to feed them, as this can make the bear not afraid of humans, which is dangerous for both you AND the bear.
Generally, Black Bears are timid around people. Unlike grizzly bears, females with cubs rarely attack people, often just sending their cubs up a tree so that they can retreat safely.
Black Bears are naturally active in the evening and early morning but sometimes alter their activity patterns for food availability. Bears may become active during the day when garbage and other human food sources are available. Black Bears in campgrounds often develop nocturnal activity patterns.
#6. Brown Bear (Kodiak/Grizzly)
- Ursus arctos
- Adults are between 3 to 5 feet tall on all fours or up to 9 feet standing on hind legs and weigh 200 to 1,000 pounds.
- Coloration can range from black to blonde.
- They have a distinct shoulder hump, disc-shaped face, and long claws.
Unfortunately, Brown Bears also have a reputation for being aggressive and dangerous to humans. In reality, they’re attracted to improperly stored food, but they prefer not to encounter people. When camping or hiking, keep your food items in bear-safe containers. If you see a Brown Bear, leave it alone and give it plenty of space.
Brown Bears are normally slow, but if needed, they can run up to 35 miles per hour! They also swim as they prey upon fish or cross rivers. Unlike the black bear, adult Brown Bears generally aren’t adept at climbing trees due to their size and weight. However, they have an excellent sense of smell, which they use to locate food.
Brown Bear populations are drastically reduced from their number before the westward movement of European settlers. Some estimates indicate that Brown Bears occupy just 2% of their former range. Today, they face threats from habitat destruction due to logging, mining, and the development of roads, subdivisions, golf courses, and resorts.
- Genus: Rattus
Interestingly, brown and black rats (the most common types that cause disease) are not native to Alaska. They’re thought to have originated in the eastern hemisphere and were brought here through trade routes. Living in a highly populated city makes you more likely to see a Brown Rat. Black Rats, on the other hand, usually live in agricultural and farming communities.
Even though both species are still common, in many areas where the Black Rat was once the dominant species, the Brown Rat has taken over. Black Rats are slightly smaller and reproduce less often, two reasons this species isn’t as widespread as Brown Rats.
Most people consider rats of any species to be pests, both in the agricultural market and in homes and cities. Like other rodents, Black and Brown Rats can carry pathogens in their bodies. While they may not appear sick, they can spread infections like toxoplasmosis, typhus, and bubonic plague. Avoid handling wild rats, and be especially careful of their bite!
- Alces alces
- Adults stand about six feet at the shoulder and weigh over 1,000 pounds.
- Their coloring is generally dark brown. Cows (females) have light brown face and a white patch of fur beneath the tail.
- Moose have flaps of skin called dewlaps hanging from their throats, and bulls (males) grow massive antlers up to six feet across in the spring and summer.
Moose, the largest member of the deer family, only thrive in colder climates due to their massive size and insulated fur. In addition, their hair is hollow, helping to trap air and provide maximum insulation. Their ideal habitat includes a mix of mature and young trees, which provides abundant forage.
Female Moose, called cows, are known to aggressively defend their young, which often have a high mortality rate until they turn one. Mothers have been known to injure or kill grizzly bears, wolves, black bears, and even people in defense of their babies. If you encounter a Moose with babies, stay as far away as possible to avoid injury.
Bull Moose are also incredibly aggressive during the fall rut and can be proved to attack.
Moose are highly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Warmer winters have resulted in higher tick infestations, causing Moose to die of blood loss and anemia. Tick infestations are believed to be the main cause of Moose populations dropping 40% in the last decade.
#9. North American Porcupine
- Erethizon dorsatum
- Adults range from 2 to 3 feet long and weigh about 20 pounds.
- Their fur ranges from brownish-yellow to black, with white highlights on their quills.
- Porcupines are covered in approximately 30,000 hollow quills.
Porcupines are only dangerous if you try to pick one up. 🙂
They‘re well known for their sharp quills used for defense. When threatened, porcupines draw up the skin of their back, bristling so that the quills face all directions. The porcupine keeps its back to the predator and moves its tail back and forth. But, despite their effective defense, porcupines are still preyed on by fisher cats, coyotes, wolverines, and other predators that have adapted to hunting them.
Contrary to popular belief, porcupines can’t throw quills at their attacker!
#10. American Bison
- Bison bison
- Adults stand up to 6 feet tall, and males can weigh more than one ton while females reach 900 pounds.
- They have long, deep brown fur, cloven hooves, and a noticeable hump over their shoulders.
- Both males and females have short, curved, hollow horns that can grow up to 2 feet.
Bison can be dangerous animals if they are approached.
These animals are large and agile. If you don’t respect their space, they won’t hesitate to charge. They can easily break bones and trample humans. Every year, many people get hurt trying to get a “selfie” with a Bison!
So, always remember to keep a safe distance and remain respectful of these animals.
Bison are well adapted to the changing seasons across their range. They’re constantly on the move, walking even while eating. To forage during the winter, they use their large heads to sweep aside the snow. During summer, Bison often wallow, rolling on the ground and creating shallow depressions in the soil. Wallowing helps them to cool off and soothe insect bites.
American Bison were once widespread, but by 1900, as few as 1,000 bison remained. While some Bison were hunted for food, most were killed for sport and to drive out Native American groups that relied on Bison as settlers expanded westward. Finally, in the 1900s, they received federal wildlife protection and were brought back from the brink of extinction. Today, approximately 31,000 wild bison are found on federally protected lands and reserves.
#11. Domestic Dogs
- Canis familiaris
There’s a good reason why dogs are considered “man’s best friend.”
They’re one of the most popular pets in Alaska! However, usually due to poor training or mistreatment, dogs can easily become dangerous animals.
No matter what breed, size, or disposition, any domesticated dog has the potential to hurt a human. For example, if you don’t pay attention to a dog’s warning cues, it may become defensive and bite or jump to get you to back off.
To ensure you stay safe, never approach a dog you don’t know, and always ask its owner before you greet it. If you have a dog yourself, don’t leave it unsupervised with children or strangers to decrease the risk of accidental conflict. Finally, and most importantly, learn to follow your dog’s lead regarding their social cues. A dog that feels threatened is always dangerous, no matter how loyal they are!
Here are some statistics about dog bites from the American Veterinary Medical Association:
- More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in Alaska.
- Almost 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
- Children are the most common victims of dog bites and are far more likely to be severely injured.
- Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.
The interesting thing about dogs is how we’ve grown so accustomed to them over time, most people have no fear of these lovable animals. But, statistically, you’re much more likely to be injured by a dog than by any of the other animals on this list! So next time you come across a “dangerous” wild animal, remember that you should respect it instead of hurting it out of fear.
Do you want to learn about MORE animals in Alaska?
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Which of these dangerous animals in Alaska have you seen?
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