Thanks to an abundance of untouched wilderness and astounding natural beauty, the Pacific Northwest draws in tens of millions of travellers each year. Oregon alone accounts for close to 30 million of these visitors, many of whom want to experience the state’s majestic sights firsthand. Getting to the most pristine locations means spending long days outdoors and coming into contact with a wide variety of fascinating and potentially dangerous animals.
Even with the plethora of insects, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that can be seen, animal attacks are incredibly rare but that isn’t to say Oregonian animals are harmless. Quite the contrary, many dangerous animals live in Oregon so you need to have your head screwed on when it comes to exploring this amazing region.
To remain as safe as possible during your visit, you’ll need as much information as you can get before heading out into the wild. So without any further ado, let’s dive into the 11 most dangerous animals in Oregon!
Close to 30,000 Black Bears roam free in Oregon, making it one of the largest Black Bear populations in North America.
If you’re only visiting the central or southeastern parts of the state, it’s unlikely you’ll come across one of these large omnivorous mammals but they can be spotted almost everywhere else. Black Bears are great climbers, fantastic swimmers and can run at 60kph! They are most at home in forests, stream beds and on hiking trails, where navigating among the trees is easy.
Close in size to Grizzlies, Black Bears are surprisingly not always black. They can be brown, blonde or cinnamon coloured and usually blend in well with their forest environment. No matter their colour, they should always be treated with great respect.
Generally, bears will avoid humans, providing they know we are coming. To ensure you don’t have a scary encounter with a large angry bear, create a lot of noise while out and never hike into the woods alone. If you do encounter a bear, make yourself as big as possible and try to be as loud as you can.
Mountain Lions (Cougars, Pumas, Panthers)
Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther or Puma, no matter what name you give to this large cat, it’s a safe bet that you won’t want to bump into one during your time in Oregon. While Mountain Lion attacks on humans are rare, fatalities can and do occasionally occur.
The majority of Oregon’s 6,000 Mountain Lions live in the Blue Mountains and in the Southwestern Cascades but they can be spotted across much of the state. Weighing up to 100kg and standing at around 75cm at the shoulder, these powerful mammals are solitary creatures who would rather creep away from humans than attack.
A Mountain Lion will usually leave an area when disturbed by people but if you do come into contact with one, you’re advised to behave in the same way as during a bear encounter. Make yourself as big as possible and create as much noise as you can. If it comes to it, throw sticks or stones in an attempt to scare the creature off.
The Western Rattlesnake is the only snake in the state that poses a threat to humans. They can grow up to 5 feet in length but specimens of this size are incredibly rare and some may not even achieve 2 feet by the time they reach maturity.
Although snakes can be found absorbing sunlight in open areas throughout the state, rattlesnakes tend to be found in Oregon’s more southern regions, from the middle of Willamette Valley to the borders of California and Nevada. They will avoid confrontation with humans, using their rattle to give ample warning of their presence and only bite if attacked or cornered.
While Western Rattlesnake bites have the potential to be lethal, death is actually a very rare occurrence for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the majority of bites dished out by these reptiles are ‘dry’ bites, meaning they inject no venom and are just trying to scare you off. Generally, rattlesnakes won’t waste their venom on anything they can’t eat. Secondly, their venom is not usually lethal to healthy humans. However, if bitten you should always seek medical attention as complications may occur if it is left for too long.
Oregon is home to three species of spider that can be considered dangerous. The Black Widow, Yellow Sac and Hobo Spider.
We all recognise Black Widow Spiders for the standout red hourglass shape on their abdomen but did you know it’s only the female Black Widows that are venomous?
These small, black arachnids tend to hide in cool sheltered spots and should certainly be avoided. A bite from these arachnids, while usually not fatal, can cause difficulty breathing, muscle spasms and severe pain. If you do get bitten, seek medical advice just to be on the safe side.
Yellow Sac Spiders are only mildly venomous to humans and unless you have a severe reaction, are not deadly. These small arachnids barely grow past a centimetre in size and are pale brown in colour.
The danger from Yellow Sac Spiders comes from the type of venom they produce. It can cause necrosis, or rotting of the flesh but only in very localised spots. Providing the wound doesn’t get infected, there is very little to worry about. Rare symptoms of a this spider’s bite include nausea, headaches and sweating.
Finally, we have the Hobo Spider. These little beauties can reach up to 6cm and aren’t great climbers, so tend to live on the ground. They get their name from the prevalence of them living along railway lines but can be found in a wide variety of areas, including fallen trees in open grassland and cracks in pavements.
Opinion is divided on how venomous the Hobo Spider are but what we know for sure is that they do bite and that the bite is by no means deadly. Victims of a Hobo Spider bite report pain around the site and occasional nausea or fever.
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During the early 20th century, wolves were all but extinct in the contiguous 48. During the 1980s, reintroduction programs began and have been a resounding success. Wolves found their way back into Oregon naturally after being reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho and as of 2019, the Oregon Department Of Fish And Wildlife reports at least 22 wolf packs living in the state.
While there are no reported wolf attacks on humans in Oregon or surrounding states, wolves still make our list of dangerous animals due to their potential threat. Adult wolves can measure up to 1.6 metres in length and are around 80cm tall at the shoulder. Pack sizes vary and like other large carnivores, will usually avoid human interaction.
To ensure you don’t become a wolf snack, make a lot of noise when out in the wild to warn the wolves of your presence. If you do encounter one of these magnificent creatures, make yourself as big as possible and create a lot of noise. If possible, back away slowly but do not turn your back on the wolf.
Deer & Elk
While the idea of deer or elk being dangerous might seem ludicrous, bear with us on this. Every year over 7000 road traffic accidents involving deer or elk are reported in Oregon. This translates to a 1 in 256 chance of drivers being involved in a deer/elk related crash!
Aside from the risk of a car crash involving deer or elk, the animals can also be dangerous if you stumble across them in the wild. Injured animals can be very aggressive and there have been reports of hunters being killed by the same deer they just wounded. Likewise, mothers can be very protective of their young.
While driving, the best way to avoid deer or elk related accidents is to drive slowly with your full beams on, especially near areas of forest or trees. If you see one deer, be aware there will probably be more close by.
To avoid deer while exploring the wilds, make plenty of noise so they know you are coming and avoid getting between a mother and her young. If a deer or elk acts aggressively towards you, back away slowly but continue to face the animal and make as much noise as you can.
Known for their ‘burglar mask’ markings and propensity to steal anything they can get their paws on, racoons can be highly aggressive when coming into contact with humans. They can grow to almost a metre in length and the largest can weigh upwards of 10kg.
Racoons have adapted well to sharing their habitat with humans and are common throughout Oregon, often raiding bins, animal cages and pet food bowls in search of sustenance. They have no qualms in using cat flaps to get into peoples homes so if you know there are racoons around, you need to be extra vigilant to not leave food outside and attract them to your property.
The biggest danger with racoons is that they are frequent carriers of rabies, roundworms and leptospirosis.
Hornets, Bees and Wasps
Across the USA 50-100 people are killed each year by hornets, bees and wasps. For this reason, we would be remised to cut these insects from our list of the most dangerous animals in Oregon.
Oregon is home to multiple species of these stinging wee fellows but most are either harmless or unconcerned by humans. Aggressive buzzers like Hornets, Yellow Jackets and Paper Wasps are the ones to watch out for as they sting first and ask questions later.
Generally, a sting from one of these causes a bit of pain and slight inflammation but an allergic reaction can be deadly so avoid them where possible!
What is the most dangerous animal in Oregon?
Statistically, the most dangerous animal in Oregon is human beings. But aside from Homo sapiens, Oregon’s most dangerous animal is debatable. Both Black Bears and Mountain Lions have been responsible for at least one human death each in the last few years while Western Rattlesnakes have had zero deaths attributed to them in the same time frame. Deer are responsible for more road traffic collisions than any other animal and these accidents can frequently lead to injury or death.
Are there venomous snakes in Oregon?
Yes, there are two venomous subspecies of snake in Oregon. The Northern Pacific Rattlesnake is found right across Oregon, from the Columbia Plateau all the way to California, while the Great Basin Rattlesnake can be found in Southeastern areas of the state. For a fit healthy adult, a rattlesnake bite is unlikely to be deadly but if bitten, you should seek medical attention regardless.
Are there dangerous spiders in Oregon?
There are three species of dangerous spider in Oregon. Black Widows can be found in the state as well as two further dangerous species, the Yellow Sac and Hobo Spiders. Black Widows are the most dangerous and can very occasionally cause fatalities. The other two species can create painful symptoms but are not deadly.
Are there scorpions in Oregon?
Yes, there are multiple species of scorpion in Oregon but none of them are particularly dangerous. Many of Oregon’s scorpion species have a painful sting but they are not deadly for healthy adults. Young children or the elderly may have a severe reaction to scorpion venom and should seek medical assistance if stung.
Are there wolves in Oregon?
Yes, wolves roam free in Oregon. During the 20th century, wolves in Oregon were driven to extinction but thanks to reintroduction efforts in the 1980s, wolves have made a return to Oregon. Today there are as many as 150 wolves in 22 different packs roaming around the state.
Oregon has always kept us captivated with its vast array of stunning flora and fauna. Mammals, reptiles, insects and amphibians are common throughout the state and the ODFW provides ample information for the best places to see some of these amazing animals.
Today, as we venture further and further into the wild territories of the Pacific Northwest, we need to be as informed as possible in order to remain safe.
So when out exploring, ensure you are making noise, never feed wild animals and pay attention to your surroundings. If you notice fresh evidence of large animals, leave the area.
If you have a friend who is visiting Oregon soon, consider sharing this article with them. You never know, it might just save their life.