Arizona is home to a host of amazing creatures, adapting perfectly to the state’s harsh, rugged terrain. Some of these animals are completely harmless, however, there are some that you should try to avoid altogether…
The Southwestern state of Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon, one of the most visited natural attractions in the world. Formerly part of Mexico, the southern part of this state has a desert climate, with extremely hot summer months. While the northern part is much more mountainous, with thick, green forests and can see significant snowfall in winter.
This diverse terrain and differing climates is why a huge range of species can be found in Arizona, ranging from hardy Mule Deer to enduring Mexican Wolves. In this article we will take a look at 9 of the most dangerous animals in Arizona and what makes them such a threat.
Africanized Honey Bee (Killer Bees)
The Africanized Honey Bee is a hybrid, created by crossbreeding the East African Lowland Honey Bee with various European species. It was initially introduced in Brazil in 1956 in an attempt to improve the production of honey but the escape of 26 swarms a year later resulted in their spread to other parts of South America, and decades later, North America.
This bee has a fearsome reputation due to its highly defensive nature and quick reactions, reportedly chasing a human for over 400 metres in some cases. The Killer Bee has killed more than 1,000 people, delivering 10 times more stings than their European counterparts. A swarm of this species can also kill a fully-grown horse, amongst other animals.
These bees typically guard the hive in greater numbers and are more likely to migrate and abscond than other species, increasing the likelihood of an encounter.
Although Africanized and European Honey Bees have the same venom, the former attacks in larger swarms and delivers a lot more stings. The side effects of a sting can include; nausea, vomiting, inflammation of the skin, headaches and weakness, amongst other ailments. In severe cases, victims can also suffer from an increased heart rate, respiratory problems and kidney failure.
As well as Arizona, Africanized Honey Bees have also spread to Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, New Orleans and many other southern states, with more discoveries being made in other parts of the US on a frequent basis.
Black bears are the most common type of bear in North America and the only bear that can still be found in Arizona.
Despite being the smallest bear on the continent, an adult male can still reach 7 feet tall when standing and can weigh as much as 600 pounds. These bears are usually solitary apart from mothers tending to their cubs and breeding couples, they also hibernate from November to March, limiting the chances of bumping into one in the wild.
They can live up to 20 years of age and their diet usually consists of; fruit, insects, roots, cactus and sometimes even farm livestock. Bears are also a pest for campers and can often be found rummaging for any food left within sniffing distance. If starving, black bears have also been known to enter cities, such as Phoenix in search for food.
Their habitat is primarily forest and wetland areas, usually at an elevated level of 4,000 feet or above. They are most prominent in the White Mountains region but can also be found in the Mongollon Rim and Four Peaks areas.
This venomous scorpion is widespread across southern Arizona and find shelter in moist, cool spaces, commonly underneath bark, rocks and bricks, they have also been found inside homes, in particular, trapped in bathtubs and sinks. A good climber, the Bark Scorpion can also find home in trees and high up rock walls.
The hairs on its legs allows it to pick up vibrations in the air, helping it to catch a variety of bugs, such as; spiders, centipedes and other scorpions – killing them with its sting and pincers. Its ability to climb and high sensitivity also helps it avoid potential predators, with tarantulas, birds, lizards and some mammals all deeming this creature to be a tasty snack – a bite size meal at 2-3 inches long.
The Bark Scorpion can live between 2-6 years, sometimes even longer in the wild and is the only species of scorpion in Arizona which is deemed to be a threat to human life. Anyone stung should seek urgent medical attention.
Baby Bark Scorpions ride on their mother’s back until a few weeks old.
This majestic cat is also referred to as a Puma, Cougar and a Panther and can be identified by their tan coloured fur and black facial markings. The average male weighs between 115-220 pounds, although this species is generally smaller in locations close to the equator and much larger towards the poles.
This cat can be found across the Americas, the greatest range of any mammal across the two continents, helped by its amazing adaptability. They are very territorial and mainly solitary animals.
The Mountain Lion kills its prey by delivering a bone-crushing bite to the spinal chord, mainly feeding on deer and sometimes smaller mammals. Unlike other big cats, the Puma cannot roar and instead produces similar vocalisations to a house cat, like purrs, hisses and shrieks.
Encounters with the Mountain Lion are pretty uncommon and in the last 100 years, only 27 human deaths have been caused by this animal in North America from a documented 125 attacks.
Arizona Coral Snakes
This is one of three Coral Snakes in the US and is also referred to as the Sonoran Coral Snake, the other two being the Texan and the Eastern Coral snake. This species can be found in southern and central Arizona, as well as in parts of Mexico & New Mexico.
Its colouring is made up of red, black and yellow/ cream bands, with a black head, making it easily identifiable.
This snake can be located in a number of different habitats, from desert and woodland vegetation, to farmland and rocky, mountainous areas. It feeds on other snakes and lizards and is mainly active after nightfall, or during rainy weather.
The Arizona Coral Snake contains a similar neurotoxin to the Cobra & Mamba and despite many unhelpful myths, this species can definitely pose a threat to humans and are able to pierce the skin to inject venom, however, no deaths have been attributed to any bites from this snake. Although, fatalities are unheard of, the side effects may be extremely unpleasant and anyone bitten should quickly seek medical attention.
Brown Recluse Spiders
The recluse spider has necrotic venom which means its bite can cause infection and kill cells in living tissue, requiring medical attention to avoid any skin problems, such as dermonecrotic loxoscelism. It is one of three spiders in the United States to contain significant venom, the others being the Black Widow and the migrated, Chilean Recluse.
This small spider (between 6mm-20mm in size on average) usually has a light-to-medium brown colouring but some specimens have been know to range from almost white to blackish-gray. Its markings also resemble a violin, hence the nicknames Fiddleback and Brown Fiddler.
The Brown Recluse typically lives between 1-2 years and go up to six months with little-to-no food.
Their webs are generally disorderly and can be found in locations such as; rotting tree bark, sheds, woodpiles, garages, closets and cellars, or basically anywhere that is dry where they can go undisturbed – these spiders are also fond of cardboard.
A lot of Brown Recluse bites do not result in symptoms, however some may result in skin problems and can become painful and itchy within 2-8 hours. A bite from this spider can potentially result in necrotising ulcers and the destruction of soft tissue which can sometimes take months to heal and leave lasting scars. In rare cases, the infection reached 25cm in size and became gangrenous.
Black Widow Spiders
This hourglass-shaped spider contains venom which can be deadly to small children, the elderly or people suffering from medical issues. Healthy adults can suffer from issues such as; nausea, aches, breathing difficulties and paralysis of the diaphragm but the effects are very unlikely to be life threatening, or leave any lasting damage at all.
The Black Widow Spider is non-aggressive and would only bite a human in self defence, such as if it was stepped or sat on. Its venom is 15 times stronger than a Rattlesnake’s but the amount delivered is obviously just a tiny amount and it is not injected deep into the skin.
This spider is famous for the reputation of its females, often killing and eating males after mating, earning it a common place in pop culture. They are a solitary creature apart from when they are mating and spin large, impressive webs where they catch prey and lay a cocoon, containing hundreds of eggs.
This species usually nests close to the ground in dark and hard-to-find areas, often creating its webs in holes created by small animals, woodpiles or man-made crevices. They can also be found in shrubs, or low hedges. Indoors, this spider has been found underneath furniture, such as sofas or desks, as well as crawl spaces.
The Black Widow Spider feeds on; flies, mosquitoes, beetles, caterpillars, crickets and other bugs & insects. Once a prey is caught, it feeds by biting the victim with its two fangs, injecting digestive enzymes which turn the insides into a fluid, which is then sucked up.
The easily identifiable Gila Monster is the largest lizard in the United States and one of only a handful of poisonous lizards in the world – it can grow up to 2 feet in length and weigh over 5 pounds. Other venomous lizards are Monitors, some Iguanas and the almost identical Mexican Beaded Lizard.
Its body is pink with splatters of coloured markings of yellow, pink and orange and their name originates from Arizona’s Gila River basin where this reptile was first discovered. The Gila Monster can also be found in desert areas throughout the south east of the US and the north west of Mexico.
Gila Monster venom is a relatively low-strength neurotoxin, if bitten, it can be extremely painful but no-one has ever been reportedly killed by this animal. Unlike a snake which injects venom with its bite, Gila Monsters latch onto their victims and chews them to release the poison stored in their mouths.
The Gila Monster generally has quite lazy characteristics and its main source of food are eggs and newborn mammals. They spend almost 95% of their life in burrows unless they are feeding or enjoying the afternoon sun. This lizard can go months without feeding, storing fat reserves in their large tails.
Unfortunately, the number of Gila Monsters in the wild is thought to be dwindling due to the impact of human behaviours.
There are 33 different breeds of venomous pit vipers with a rattle at the end of their tail, with the Timber Rattlesnake being the most common found in North America, although they are not native to Arizona. The rattlesnakes which can be found in Arizona are the; Prairie, Sidewinder, Speckled, Massasauga, Mohave, Twin-Spotted, Ridge-Nosed, Tiger, Western Diamondback, Black-Tailed, Arizona Black, Western and Rock Rattlesnake.
They can grow up to 2.5 metres in length and have a range of patterns, from diamonds, hexagons and rhombuses, to stripes and bands – coming in a multitude of colours. Their main reoccurring feature being the loud, distinctive rattle at the end of their tail.
Usually shy and non-aggressive, these vipers will try to avoid humans and will only attack if provoked, or if someone gets too close – the Rattlesnake is of course venomous and dangerous. Death is a possibility if bitten by a snake of over 1 metre in length but advancements in treatment has reduced fatalities significantly.
A number of folk cures and home made remedies have been debunked over the years, with many of these homemade Rattlesnake anti-venoms causing more harm than the injury itself. A bite can result in severe pain and if possible, the snake should be killed and brought to the hospital so the correct treatment can be administered.
Rattlesnakes can be found living in dry, arid conditions and are nocturnal creatures, using ‘heat vision’ to hunt prey consisting of; small mammals, particularly rodents, while the diet of young Rattlesnake would consist mainly of lizards.
What is the most dangerous animal in Arizona?
Killer Bees are considered the most dangerous wild animal in Arizona, closely followed by venomous reptiles. Research shows that bees, hornets and wasps have caused the most deaths in Arizona, year-on-year, with many of these deaths caused by an allergic reaction.
Does Arizona have venomous snakes?
Arizona’s deserts are home to a large number of venomous snakes, with thirteen different kinds of rattlesnake found within the state. Although potentially fatal, new and improved treatments mean fatalities are much rarer these days.