If you have ever played with a young puppy, you may have experienced a sharp nip or two.
These playful bites hurt. There is no doubt about it.
However, there are some animals we share our planet with that you most certainly do not want to get a nip from.
So what are the animals with the most dangerous bite?
While your mind might jump to the devastatingly sharp teeth of the tiger shark or the cocktail of venom found in the fangs of a black mamba, the bite of much smaller animals like mosquitos and ticks are actually much more dangerous based on how many deaths they cause per year with their bite.
From the dense rainforests of Central and South America to the arid grasslands of Africa, to the murky banks of the Nile and even the inky depths of the ocean, here are ten animals with some of the most dangerous bites on our planet.
This tiny insect, normally no bigger than 5mm, is one of the deadliest animals on our planet. According to data from the World Health Organisation, mosquitoes were responsible for approximately 620,000 deaths in 2021 alone.
Some female species of mosquitoes are parasitic, feeding mostly off the blood of warm-blooded animals. They use their tube-like mouth piece, or proboscis, to pierce the skin of a prey species.
Ok, it doesn’t sound pleasant, but it also doesn’t sound too dangerous? How can this tiny animal be responsible for so many deaths?
Unfortunately, certain species of mosquito carry nasty viruses, which they pick up from feeding on other species. The viruses can multiply rapidly within the mosquito.
When a mosquito bites a host, saliva, carrying millions of viruses, is passed onto an uninfected host and can cause some of the worst diseases in human history. The most famous, of course, is malaria.
It may be worth noting that there are thought to be over 3,000 species of mosquitoes around the world, most of which are completely harmless. Mosquito-borne diseases stem from three main mosquito species: Anopheles (malaria carriers), Culex (West Nile virus carriers) and Aedes (yellow fever and dengue carriers).
So yes, mosquitoes are public enemy number one, but not all species warrant such hate. They are, in fact, incredibly important in the wider ecosystems of the world.
But yes, they do have one of the most dangerous animal bites on the planet.
There’s nothing better than an evening stroll on a warm summer’s day. The warm sun beating down, the long grass swaying around you. All is peaceful.
That is until you get home and see a small black spec attached to your leg.
You peer closer.
Six tiny legs and a head buried in your flesh becomes visible. Yup, the tell-tale signs of a tick.
Distributed across the globe, there are approximately 900 different species of these parasitic arthropods. Ticks used specialized mouthparts, which are laden with small hooks, to bite and latch on to prey species.
While some species of ticks are harmless, there are many species that have an incredibly dangerous bite.
Not because of the pain inflicted, but because of the diseases they can transmit in their saliva.
As with mosquitos, ticks are known as vectors of disease, spreading diseases between populations of uninfected species, including humans. Perhaps one of the most infamous tick-borne diseases is Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia Borgerfeli. Typically starting off as a ring rash on the skin, the infection can spread to joints, organs, and the nervous system, if left untreated.
3. Black Mamba
How could we talk about animals with the most dangerous bites without bringing up the black mamba.
Up to 2.5 meters long, the black mamba is one of Africa’s biggest, and fastest, snake species. Couple these traits with a venomous bite and aggressive tendencies, then you have the mix for an animal with one of the world’s most dangerous bites.
Although the black mamba does not have the most toxic venom on earth (that crown goes to the inland taipan of Australia), it strikes fear in people far and wide.
Unlike other snake species, that strike once and then retreat, the black mamba strikes repeatedly, injecting potential threats with a potent cocktail of neurotoxins.
These neurotoxins, which are pumped directly into the bloodstream of prey (or predators) via fangs in the mouth, are fast working and affect both the heart and the nervous system.
The true definition of a danger noodle.
4. Common Hippo
Can you think of any vegetarians with a murderous streak?
Well, cast your eyes to the common hippopotamus – the third largest land mammal alive today.
If you thought lions or leopards were the most dangerous animals in Africa, you would be wrong. The hippo is up there contending for the top spot; despite following a strict vegetarian diet.
For starters, it is huge. And with a huge body size comes an equally huge mouth, equipped with weaponry in the form of sharp lower canines. These teeth can measure up to 50cm.
Not only does the mouth of an adult hippo have incredibly large teeth, it also has the ability to open its mouth 150 degrees. Just imagine the power behind that jaw when it snaps shut.
Now, the bite force of a lion measures at an impressive 4,500kPa – enough force to crush bone. In comparison, the bite force of a hippo comes in at an astonishing 12,600kPa. More than enough to slice an unfortunate victim in half. And despite being herbivores, they also have exceptionally sharp incisors and canine teeth.
By nature, hippos are aggressive and territorial, especially protective mothers. If anything comes between a mother and a calf, she will not hesitate to use her oral weaponry to defend her young.
According to statistics, the hippo has one of the deadliest bites of any animal in the world, with an estimated 500 human fatalities per year. However, the real figure is expected to be much higher.
5. Nile Crocodile
What is half the length of a school bus but near impossible to see?
The Nile crocodile!
Found in most river and lake systems across Sub-Saharan Africa, Nile crocodiles are ambush hunters. They submerge all but their eyes and snout, in the murky river waters, concealing their presence until just the right moment.
Then suddenly, without warning, they strike with devastating force.
The bite force of the hippo seems like child’s play compared to that of the Nile crocodile, that can bite down with a force of nearly 35,000kPa – nearly three times as powerful as the hippo! Not to mention they’re working with several rows of powerful teeth.
Not only do they deliver sheer power, Nile crocodiles are notoriously aggressive, attacking anything that ventures too close – including people.
As human settlements encroach ever closer on our natural spaces, human-wildlife conflicts are becoming increasingly common.
What happens when an overly curious human meets an aggressive Nile crocodile?
Well, it doesn’t look good for the person.
After striking, the Nile crocodile will drag its victim – human or otherwise – into a body water and perform a series of death rolls. As the name implies, this manoeuvre does not bode well for the recipient.
With a strong bite, the croc latches on to its victim and rolls. This is to rip limb from limb, enabling the crocodile to swallow large chunks of flesh whole.
It is reported that Nile crocodiles kill around 200 – 300 people per year – more than all other crocodilian species combined. A dangerous bite if I’ve ever seen one.
6. Brazilian Wandering Spider
Brazil has it’s fair share of dangerous animals, from jaguars to anacondas.
However, none (at least to an arachnophobe) are more feared than the Brazilian wandering spider.
Not only are they thought to be one of the biggest spiders in the world, they also have one of the most dangerous bites.
Their venom, which is injected mostly into potential threats or predators via large fangs, contains a multitude of neurotoxins, proteins, and peptides. The fast-working venom targets the human respiration system, causing respiratory failure without medical treatment.
Another unusual side effect of the Brazilian wandering spider bite affects the male population in the form of an incredibly painful erection that can last for hours.
These spiders do not build webs like the nice, little spiders we’re so tolerant of.
Nope. They are active hunters, travelling under the cover of darkness to hunt insects and small vertebrates.
Whilst they are dangerous, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. In fact, they might not be such a bad house guest, as they consume potential disease-carrying pests, such as cockroaches.
7. Komodo Dragon
The famous bite that kills its victims through saliva.
Or does it?
For decades, there has been an ongoing debate as to why the bite of a Komodo dragon was so dangerous. Some firmly believed it was the sheer magnitude of bacteria present in its saliva that caused infections in prey.
Others believed the Komodo dragon used venom to immobilise their victims.
So, which one is it?
As it turns out, the Komodo dragon does indeed use both! Yes, the saliva is swarming with species of deadly bacteria that does indeed cause infections in prey when bitten. However, scientists also discovered that Komodo dragons also have a venom gland in the lower jaw.
First, the bacteria. To understand this, we need to look at their teeth.
The teeth of the Komodo dragon are large and serrated – the perfect weapon to tear flesh with ease.
Food particles from months of previous meals become lodged in the serrated edges, encouraging the growth of bacteria. Scientists have discovered over 50 species of bacteria in this protein-rich environment, many of which can cause nasty infections.
As for the venom, a potion of complex toxins, similar to that of a snake’s venom, can be found.
The serrated teeth cause deep wounds; the perfect entry site for the venom to get to work. The venom of a Komodo dragon holds anti-coagulant, which means that the victim’s blood cannot clot. This can cause major blood loss and shock.
Then, the bacterial infections from the saliva sets in. Death is often the outcome for any animal bitten by a Komodo dragon, making their bite one of the most dangerous. A slow, agonising death. How delightful. Thankfully, Komodo dragons are only found on remote islands off Indonesia.
8. Tiger Shark
Well, it had to appear eventually. You knew this one was coming.
I deliberated whether to include the tiger shark on the list. Afterall, they already have a bad reputation and I most certainly do not want to add to the negative stigma.
You are more likely to be killed taking a selfie or by a cow, than you by a shark.
However slim the likelihood, however, proceed with caution. Tiger sharks have an incredibly dangerous bite.
Of all the shark species, tiger sharks are thought to be one of the biggest contributors to unprovoked human shark attacks.
Their large mouths are full of very sharp, serrated teeth, with a sideways tip. This unique tooth structure has allowed the tiger shark to slice through hard substances, such as bone and turtle shell, with ease.
Now, these super sharp teeth are packed in a mouth that can shut with a force of 6,000 kPa. For reference, a great white shark has a bite force of around 4,000 kPa.
Tiger sharks attack moving silhouettes, indiscriminately, and often with fatal results. They will take a taster bite of its victim, to determine whether it is edible or not. Unfortunately, this initial bite is often enough to be fatal in many cases.
9. Gila Monster
As children, we are assured that monsters are not real. That they are made up fantasies in our heads that cannot cause us any harm.
Well, unfortunately this is not true.
Living up to its name, the gila monster is very much a monster.
Native to Southwestern United States, and Northwestern Mexico, these vibrant black and orange reptiles are one of the only species of venomous lizards extant today.
Unlike a snake, which delivers a dose of venom through needle-like fangs, the gila monster clamps down hard on flesh and begins to chew vigorously. Small, serrated teeth slice through skin, opening wounds, allowing venom, which is found in the saliva of the gila monster, to flow into the victim’s blood stream.
Not only does the bite from the gila monster cause intense swelling and nausea, the pain is said to be excruciating to humans. So painful, in fact, it has been compared to repeatedly being bashed by a hammer. Apparently.
You read that right.
Us humans have one of the most dangerous bites out there.
We may not have the most teeth in the animal kingdom, or even the sharpest. We don’t have venom dripping out of our fangs. Or a bite force capable of crushing bone.
We do, however, have a hell of a lot of bacteria in our mouths, tongues and between our teeth.
Note to self, floss after writing this.
Anyway, scientists at the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, have discovered over 700 species of bacteria found living in our mouths. Many of these 700 species of bacteria coexist peacefully in our mouth and are actually beneficial for our oral health.
However, a small percentage of these oral bacteria, such as Streptococcus, can present a threat to our health if they find their way into our bloodstream. And the easiest way they can do this, is from a bite wound – either accidental or deliberate.
Due to the high quantities of bacteria present at the wound site, infection risk is high and your immune system goes into overdrive. Inflammation, redness and itchiness are all sure signs that your body is fighting off a bacteria infection inflicted from a human bite.
Who would have thought that a bite from a human could be even more dangerous than that of a wild animal.
Size doesn’t matter.
Whether smaller than a nickel, or bigger than a car, many animals have evolved a bite so dangerous, it could end a human life quicker than you can read this article.
Bigger animals, such as hippos and crocodiles, have bite forces that can slice victims in two.
But you can see these animals coming. Normally.
It’s the smaller, unassuming animals that you need to worry about. The animals that can pump deadly bacteria and viruses into your body from the smallest of bites.
Or the animals that camouflage perfectly into the leaf litter of the forest floor below your very feet.
But, these dangerous bites are nothing compared to what our own species can inflict on ourselves, and the natural world.