Science & Technology

The Deadliest Animal in the United States May Surprise You

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What's the deadliest animal? Trick question. Sure, the shark in Jaws is terrifying — but you're way more likely to be killed by the animals you see every day. That's according to a new study published in February in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine.

Don't Sweat the Scary Stuff

The study looked at mortality data in the United States from 2008 to 2015 and compared the number of deaths caused by animals to a 2012 study that looked at the same elements in prior years. In this new study, researchers found a total of 1,610 animal-related deaths in the U.S., including deaths as a result of bites, contact, attack, or envenomation (venom injection). The majority of those deaths were related to nonvenomous animals, coming out to about 2.8 deaths per million people.

Surprisingly, most of the fatalities they found weren't related to wild animal attacks: the largest proportion of animal deaths were caused by large mammals, especially horses and cattle. According to a press release, other studies have found that most of these deaths occur on the farm, and accidents with horses and cattle account for a whopping 90 percent of farm accidents.

The next largest group of animal-related fatalities were caused by a group called Hymenoptera, or hornets, wasps, and bees, accounting for just under 30 percent of the reported fatalities. According to the press release, "Africanized" honey bees, which are found most often in the southern and western U.S., can be particularly lethal when they swarm.

The third largest group? Man's best friend: dog-related fatalities occurred at a rate of about 4.6 deaths per 10 million people. The study showed that young children are most vulnerable: the rate of children under age 4 killed by dogs was twice as high as the next most vulnerable age group, people older than 65, and four times as high as other age groups.

"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."

Protect Yourself

So how can you minimize your risk? Part of it may be due to your location and age group: the 2012 study found that people in the South experienced about 47 percent of all animal-related attacks in the U.S., Dr. Christopher Holstege, one of the authors, told CNN. In addition, infants and young children up to 4 years of age are most vulnerable, he said — especially when it comes to dog bites.

Researchers recommend more public health initiatives and awareness to help prevent farm fatalities. As for bees and hornets, it helps to be aware of your allergies, carry an EpiPen, and try to avoid provoking bees. As far as dogs go, your best bet is to not leave them alone with the very young or the very old.

But still, there isn't too much reason to worry. "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."

For more about natural dangers, check out "Venom: The Secrets of Nature's Deadliest Weapon" by Ronald Jenner and‎ Eivind Undheim. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Stephanie Bucklin April 10, 2018