What kinds of animals come to mind when you think of ones that are both lethal and dangerous? Big, carnivorous apexes predators like lions, wolves, and sharks are probably to blame.
What this list will show you, though, is that appearances of strength and size are often deceptive. Even though sharks have a bad reputation for being dangerous, they are only responsible for about six deaths per year worldwide. Lions? Only 22!
The most lethal creatures aren’t necessarily the largest; often, it’s the smallest animals that spread disease and poison. Keep reading to learn more:
Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius)
500 deaths per year
Let’s start with the biggest before moving on to the small and deadly. When you think of deadly African wildlife, you might think lions are at the top of the list. Hippos kill far more people each year.
Hippos are deadly land mammals, killing an estimated 500 people each year (compared to only 22 for lions). This is due to their aggressive and territorial nature, as well as their penchant for charging at boats and capsizing them.
The people on board are then either drowned or killed by the animals. It’s an animal you wouldn’t want to come up against, weighing an average of 1,500 kg (males) and sporting large, sharp teeth.
Elephants (Elephantidae family)
500 deaths per year
Elephants are often portrayed as gentle, thoughtful creatures, but they can also be lethal. This is due in part to their enormous size and weight as the largest living land animals.
Elephants are increasingly coming into contact with humans as a result of habitat loss and encroaching farmlands into elephant home areas, resulting in conflict.
Elephant herds have been known to raid farms and villages, gorging or trampling any humans who get in their way. One blow from an elephant is enough to kill, and around 500 people are killed in this way each year.
Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)
1,000 deaths per year
The saltwater crocodile is another dangerous water creature to avoid. Crocodiles as a group are quite lethal, killing around 1,000 people per year, but they do not hunt humans on purpose, and kills are opportunistic.
The saltwater crocodile, on the other hand, is one of the most likely to regard humans as prey. It is also the largest living reptile and crocodilian, making it fierce, fast, and intimidating. Males can reach 6 meters in length and weigh 1,300 kg.
They can also reach speeds of 18mph when pursuing prey through the water. All of this means that if a saltwater crocodile has chosen you as his prey, you are unlikely to survive.
Ascaris roundworms (Ascaris genus)
2,500 deaths per year
A parasite is a lethal agent in this case. That is an animal that lives on or within another (a host) and causes harm to it.
In this case, the roundworm is the parasite rather than just the vector, as mosquitos are. Ascaris roundworms are spread when a person accidentally consumes their eggs, which happens all too often when food or drink is contaminated with human faeces.
The worms live in the small intestine and rely on the human body to survive, feed, and reproduce. Ascariasis, the resulting disease, is characterized by fever, abdominal pain and swelling, and shortness of breath, and it kills approximately 2,500 people each year.
Scorpions (Scorpiones order)
2,600 deaths per year
Venomous animals are among the deadliest on the planet. Unlike poisonous animals, which secrete toxins, venomous animals deliver toxins directly through specialized body parts, such as a bite or, in this case, a stinger.
Scorpions produce venom for the same reason that many other species do: to subdue or kill their prey rather than kill humans. However, the venom of 25 species of scorpions can be lethal to humans if you happen to get in their way.
Stings are common when scorpions are stepped on with bare feet or when they hide in people’s shoes. They use it to protect themselves from being crushed, rather than as an attack.
Scorpion stings are responsible for approximately 2,600 deaths each year. The Indian red scorpion (Hottentotta stimulus) is thought to be the most lethal in the world.
Assassin bugs (Reduviidae family)
10,000 deaths per year
The assassin bug is another insect that spreads disease and death through its bite. Some species of this Central and South American ‘true bug’ are responsible for the spread of Chagas disease, a tropical parasitic disease that kills about 10,000 people worldwide each year.
These species are also known as ‘kissing bugs’ because they bite people’s faces while they sleep. Charming.
Echis carinatus (saw-scaled viper)
Every year, 138,000 people die.
In terms of mortality, the venomous saw-scaled viper is the most lethal snake. Snakes are among the most dangerous creatures, with snake bites accounting for up to 138,000 deaths each year.
The saw-scaled viper is a particularly aggressive species, making it more lethal than the inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus), which is both highly toxic and shy.
The saw-scaled viper is a snake to fear due to its aggressive nature, potent venom, and presence in densely populated areas.
Freshwater snails (Gastropoda class)
200,000 deaths per year
This one might catch you off guard. Freshwater snails are responsible for over 200,000 deaths each year. This is because they are hosts to lethal parasites, specifically parasitic flatworms known as flukes.
There are up to 24,000 fluke species, the majority of which are parasites of vertebrates (like us) and molluscs (like snails).
Schistosoma is a particularly nasty one that is spread by freshwater snails. The flukes develop within the snail before being released into the water. As the flukes penetrate the skin, humans become infected by contaminated freshwater.
This is the cause of schistosomiasis, also known as snail fever’ in humans.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000, this is the second most “socioeconomically devastating” parasitic disease, causing up to 200,000 deaths per year.
Humans (Homo sapiens)
431,000 deaths per year
Homicides are responsible for an estimated 431,000 human deaths each year, making us the deadliest mammals by far. Our ability to use advanced tools above and beyond that of all other animals has been our undoing in some ways, leading to complex weapons that we use to kill each other.
Not to mention the devastation our activities have caused in the natural world, resulting in climate change, which is already estimated to kill over 150,000 people each year.
Climate change has a wide range of effects on human health and safety, including the cleanliness of our water and air, food security, and the frequency of natural disasters. It can also increase the occurrence of diseases such as malaria, which is on this list.
According to the WHO, climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition and disease between 2030 and 2050.
Mosquitos (Culicidae family)
725,000 – 1,000,000 deaths per year
The pinnacle of a tiny creature making a big difference. Mosquitoes are the leading cause of death among humans worldwide, responsible for 726,000-1,000,000 annual deaths. This is not to imply that any of these tiny insects intend any harm.
Mosquitoes frequently spread disease rather than killing humans directly. Because of this, when they feed on blood from humans and animals, they unintentionally spread bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
The most deadly mosquito-borne disease is malaria, a parasitic infection spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Because of how pervasive and deadly it is, this illness has had far-reaching consequences for human development and history.