With it’s beautiful beaches, coral reefs, world-class fishing, and extensive wetlands, Florida is a haven for wildlife and humanity alike. Some of the most iconic species of wildlife in the world can be found here in abundance. Florida’s warm, humid climate and proximity to the tropics also means that there are species here that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States. In some cases, there is dangerous wildlife in Florida that you’d do well to avoid.
In this article, I’ll show you some examples of dangerous animals in the state of Florida. Let’s have a look!
Dangerous wildlife in Florida
Most wildlife is harmless, and even the species we describe as dangerous, prefer to avoid encounters with people. Still, there are some species that can be very dangerous, and it’s good to know what they are so you can avoid them.
The state has also had problems with invasive exotic species in the Florida Everglades. If you planning on visiting South Florida, it’s something you may want to learn about.
In the modern world it’s easy to think we’ve distanced ourselves from wildlife. The truth is, wildlife is always closer than we think, and in some places this is more true than others. Florida’s wildlife is diverse, beautiful, and tends to live in close proximity to people.
Here are some examples of the wildlife in Florida that can be dangerous to humans.
1. American alligator
When you think about dangerous wildlife in Florida, many people think about the alligator. While these massive reptiles can be found in all of the Gulf Coast states, their especially common in Florida. They live in every county in Florida, and most likely inhabit every body of fresh water that’s large enough to hold them.
Alligators are big animals, with the strongest bite force of any living creature. For all that power, they’re surprisingly non aggressive. Most of their diet consists of fish and small animals, and unlike some of their relatives, they don’t see humans as prey.
In fact, natives of states like Florida and Louisiana, which have huge alligator populations, often feel little fear of these predators. Many even routinely swim in alligator infested waters. Alligator attacks on humans are rare. However, these are still extremely powerful predators that are more than capable of killing a human.
They’re at their most aggressive when they have nests to protect, and a mother gator is fearless when she’s protecting her young. Alligator nests are large mounds of dirt and plant material built near the water’s edge. If you see one, just avoid it.
2. Feral hog/wild boar
Often mistakenly referred to as wild boars, feral hogs can be found throughout the state. These are not native animals, but are descended from domestic pigs that escaped into the wild. They cause havoc throughout Florida, tearing up the landscape, damaging native plants and posing a threat to the native wildlife.
In most places, they have no natural predators. Alligators rarely target them. In the southern tip of the state they’re often a favorite prey item of the critically endangered Florida panther (see below), but there are only around 100 of those cats left in the wild.
Feral hogs are popular with hunters, because there’s no restrictions on when they can be hunted or how many you can kill. But these are smart, aggressive, and dangerous animals. They have razor sharp tusks and males can weigh more than a person. Mothers with piglets may be especially aggressive.
3. Bull shark
Florida has more unprovoked shark attacks than any other state. In fact, New Smyrna Beach is the shark attack capital of the world. Almost all of the shark attacks in Florida can be attributed to the bull shark. Most of the shark species in Florida are harmless and not known to attack people.
The bull shark, which lives in coastal waters all over the globe, is responsible for more shark attacks worldwide than any other species, even though the Great White Shark is more infamous. Bull sharks are far more common than Great Whites, especially in warm water.
Bull sharks also tend to live in shallower coastal waters, where people like to swim, and they’re just as comfortable in fresh water as they are in salt water, so they’re commonly found in large rivers and lakes, too.
Most bull shark attacks aren’t fatal, though. They don’t see humans as food, but they’re aggressive, territorial, and inquisitive. They often bite things as a way of finding out what they are, and sometimes they attack out of a perceived need for self defense.
Florida has a lot of snakes, and that includes several species of rattlesnake. The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake is the largest species of rattlesnake in the world, and is widely considered the most dangerous venomous snake in North America. This is due to its large size, it’s a big snake that has big fangs and injects a large amount of venom with each strike.
Learn about the 3 different types of snake venom.
The dusky pygmy rattlesnake is the most common venomous snake in Florida, and timber rattlesnakes can be found here in large numbers. In general rattlesnake bites are relatively common not just in Florida but throughout the United States. This isn’t because rattlesnakes are especially aggressive, though, it’s because they’re very common.
In the southern and western states, especially, rattlesnakes are common and their populations are high. As a result, most venomous snakebites are rattlesnake bites. Rattlesnakes aren’t aggressive snakes, though.
In fact, their rattles were evolved specifically to help them avoid biting large animals like humans. They rattle to warn you away, because they don’t want to bite you if they don’t have to. So, if you hear the rattle, just slowly back away until it stops.
5. Black widow spiders
The Southern Black Widow is native to Florida, and is quite common. It’s easily identifiable by the distinctive red hourglass shape on it’s black abdomen. Black widows are among the most infamous spiders, both for their potentially deadly bite and their habit of killing and eating the males after mating (although this is a very common practice among spiders).
Black widows can also be identified by their chaotic webs, which look like a tangled mess, rather than the more typical, highly structured circular webs of most spiders. They tend to build them in hollow tree stumps, rock and wood piles, or in garages and basements. They like dark, secluded places.
Black widow bites, contrary to popular belief, are rarely fatal. They can be extremely painful, though, and every person reacts differently. Some people even experience very little pain or discomfort. For most, though, it’s a thoroughly unpleasant experience and it can be fatal for some.
6. Black Bear
By far the largest land animal in the Florida, black bears are an endangered species here and prefer to live deep in the woods, avoiding people. Bears are omnivores, but Florida’s black bears rarely eat meat- 80% or more of their diet is plant material.
Black bears are also not nearly as aggressive or dangerous as their larger cousin the brown bears (grizzly bears). However, if a black bear feels cornered or trapped it may attack. In addition, a mother black bear with cubs can be very dangerous if she feels that her cubs lives are in danger.
Black bears are surprisingly fast, and they can climb trees quickly, too. Fortunately, they tend to use that speed and climbing skill to avoid people, not chase them. In fact, humans are a much bigger threat to Florida’s bears than they are to us.
Cottonmouths, or water moccasins, are very common venomous snakes that live all over Florida. They aren’t strictly aquatic, but they do prefer to live near water, and are excellent swimmers. Frogs and fish are often their preferred prey.
Cottonmouths have a reputation as highly aggressive snakes that will actively chase people. This is simply untrue, as cottonmouths are actually fairly shy and will almost always attempt to avoid people. This myth is the result of the non-venomous watersnakes that share their habitat, and have evolved very similar coloration and body shapes.
Some of these other watersnakes, though non-venomous, are quite aggressive. This aggression, combined with their natural similarity in appearance to the venomous cottonmouth, is a very effective defense mechanism. They are, however, harmless. Cottonmouths, while venomous, will always try to avoid biting people if they can.
If they feel they can’t escape, they will first pose with their head thrown back and mouth open wide- the inside of their mouth is bright white, which is where the name comes from. The site of that white mouth wide open is meant to scare off potential predators, like you.
Another species that has almost become synonymous with dangerous wildlife in Florida of late is the Burmese python. Pythons are not native to Florida, but a feral population of Burmese pythons has been well-documented. These are escaped pets, or the descendants of escaped pets. Like feral hogs, they’re an invasive species with no natural predators.
Although they’re not venomous, these snakes pose a serious threat to Florida’s native wildlife and could be dangerous to humans, too. They’re big enough to attack and eat alligators, as adults routinely grow to be 16 feet long or longer.
A 2012 report stated that in areas where Burmese pythons had established an invasive population in Florida, rabbits and foxes had disappeared, sightings of raccoons and opossums were down by 99 and 98% respectively, and sightings of white tailed deer were down by 94%. Coyote and bobcat populations have also declined significantly and there’s even concern that the pythons pose a threat to the endangered Florida panther.
These snakes are more than large enough to kill and eat a human, but there are no recorded attacks by Burmese pythons on humans. The danger they pose is to other wildlife, not us.
9. Brown recluse
The brown recluse might just be the most dangerous animal in Florida. They’re rarely encountered because, as the name suggests, they tend to avoid being in places that have a lot of people in them. They like to hide out in the dead plant matter on the forest floor, or in wood piles, and other dark places where they won’t be disturbed.
They often play dead, too. When they can see you, they freeze, and won’t react until you leave. The danger comes when they can’t see you coming. They’re small spiders, and easily go unnoticed, but their venom is highly potent.
A brown recluse bite can easily hospitalize you, or worse. And unfortunately, there is no antidote for their venom. Certain treatments can minimize the symptoms, though. Luckily, bites from these spiders are rare.
10. Florida panther
Even though Florida panthers are slightly smaller than their cousins that live in colder climates, they can still reach up to 28 inches at the shoulder and 160 pounds. There are only thought to be around 130 Florida panthers left in the wild today, so the chances of coming upon one in the wild are actually very slim.
An attack on a human from a Florida panther has never been documented, though attacks against our pets is not uncommon. Here’s one such recent incident reported by the Naples Daily News.
Even though they’re quite rare, these are still mountain lions and very dangerous animals in Florida.