7 Most Dangerous Animals in Tennessee: Deadliest Wildlife

30-second summary:

  • Tennessee is well-known for being the home of the world’s most famous celebrities including Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton; however, it also houses some very dangerous animals!
  • Spiders are a big threat in Tennessee and should always be approached with care.
  • If you venture into the forests, be careful of Bears, Elk, Boar and snakes.
  • As long as you are alert and respectful of the environment, you should be able to stay safe in Tennessee.

A list of dangerous animals in Tennessee may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of this great state. You might first think of Graceland, the famous mansion bought by Elvis Presley in 1957. Uh-huh. Or maybe that it is the birthplace of Dolly Parton and country music. You may not immediately think of deadly wildlife, but Tennessee is home to a few dangerous animals – and I am not just talking about the human.

The Great Smoky Mountain range here is home to lots of deadly wildlife you need to respect. If we told you that Tennessee is ranked the fifth state out of all fifty American states where humans are most likely to be killed by an animal, would you still want to go?

Sure you would! There are some beautiful things to see here such as Ruby Falls and the Smoky Mountains (not to mention the wildlife that won’t hurt you). Armed with this guide to the most dangerous animals in Tennessee you will know what to look out for and how to stay safe.


Just the mention of the word spider makes us shiver. There are only two species of poisonous spider in Tennessee (considering there are over forty-five thousand species of spider in the entire world this isn’t so bad). You will find spiders in every county in the state though! Watch out for the two below.

You don’t even have to venture into the mountains to find dangerous wildlife. Shiver!

Black Widow Spiders

Black Widow Spider - dangerous animals in Tennessee
Image by jgiammatteo from Pixabay

Black widows are well, black. They have a distinctive red or orange hourglass shape on their bodies. They are rarely longer than 1.5″ but that is about 1.5″ too long for us. Their width is only around 0.25″.

If you are bitten by one of these you can experience some rather nasty symptoms, although we can reassure you (somewhat) that they are unlikely to kill a human. The many symptoms of a bite from this poisonous pest include:

  • muscle and back pain, like cramp
  • fever
  • nausea
  • shaking
  • breathing problems

Actually, the most common victims of the female black widow spider bite are their male counterparts.

Brown Recluse Spiders

Brown Recluse Spider - dangerous animals in Tennessee
Image by Robby Lockeby from Pixabay

The second venomous spider in Tennessee is the brown recluse. You can recognize this by the shape of a violin on the body (what is it with spiders and body art?). The violin shape can be obscure so the surefire way to identify one is by looking into its eyes. Because that’s at the top of all our “must-do” lists. If this actually is on your list and the spider you are gazing at has only six eyes, then you are making eyes at a brown recluse.

These spiders are smaller than a black widow at about 1cm long and 0.5cm wide. Sometimes, good things do not come in small packages. The bites might not kill you but the symptoms can be pretty horrible and include:

  • chills
  • nausea
  • skin lesions
  • in severe cases, incredibly nasty skin lesions

Spiders prefer to munch insects. They do not view humans as food, so only bite when they feel attacked. So try not to sit on one. If you think you have been bitten by one of these spiders and are experiencing any of these symptoms, then wash the bite out with soap and water if you are able to and seek medical advice. If you’re in the mood and can see the spider, take a photo of it, as this could help with identification and treatment.

Black Bears

Black Bear - dangerous animals in Tennessee
Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

Up in the Sugarland Mountain Trail or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, mountain hikers are spoilt for choice. These areas are home to some dangerous wildlife including the black bear – the only species of bear found in Tennessee. If we asked you what you think is one of the most dangerous animals in Tennessee, it’s likely a bear would be at the top of the list.

Bears prefer to be left alone by people but are curious animals. If humans encroach on their territory they could come to check them out. Did you know, some black bears can grow to seven feet in length and weigh over seven hundred pounds? They can carry many diseases which could be passed on to people.

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To run or not to run?

People ask this all the time. If you are approached by a bear do not run. If you run, bears will probably chase and I wouldn’t like your odds. Stand still and make yourself appear as big as possible – wave your arms high above your head. Be noisy and throw things – sticks, stones. The bear should eventually go away.

If the bear starts making huffing noises or pawing the ground, slowly back away. You are going to have to fight hard if the bear attacks, using sticks, rocks – whatever is at hand. Don’t play dead, that is a good way to get yourself killed.

Clearly, it would be best not to come across bears in the first place so:

  • before you leave – check local advice, talk to mountain rangers
  • choose your time – May, June and July see more bears roaming due to the end of hibernation and the start of breeding
  • do not eat or leave food out in the open – bears bored of their diet of berries and insects will sniff it out
  • if you spot a bear in the distance, avoid it – turn around or find another route.


Elk With Antlers
Image by Siggy Nowak from Pixabay

There is a wild elk population in Tennessee thanks to a reintroduction programme in 2001. Elk are related to deer but larger. The antlers on these animals can be four feet in height alone! That’s the average height of a six-year-old child. On top of your head.

Elk can weigh up to 700lbs but can still reach speeds of 40mph. They are fantastic jumpers too, even being able to jump 8 feet. We expect you’ve got the idea now but elk can be pretty dangerous to humans. They could attack without warning so avoid coming into close contact with these animals.

Elk are able to thrive here largely due to the lack of natural predators. In fact, the biggest enemy of this animal in recent years, apart from the human, has been CWD – Chronic Wasting Disease. This disease is nasty, it attacks the brain of the animal. It is not thought that it can be passed on to humans, but I probably won’t eat elk meat, you know, just in case.

If you want to try and see an elk roaming around the Smoky Mountains you may spot one on elk cam here – a much safer prospect.

Wild Boar

Wild Boar - dangerous animals in Tennessee
Image by Sorin Tincu from Pixabay

Wild boars are a related species of the common pig we all know. They are not a native America animal but were introduced in the early twentieth century. Their bristles are brown, black or ginger. Wild boars are chunky examples of wildlife, with long snouts and can weigh up to two hundred pounds. They are greedy pigs and will eat almost anything, including nuts and berries, insects and small mammals.

Wild boars can be very aggressive, not to mention disease-ridden. Female boars are often found with their young, and adolescent male boars will group together. It tends to only be the mature male that adopts a solitary lifestyle (until they get the mating urge). Leaving the child-rearing to the women eh?

They are a nocturnal animal, mainly. Avoid being out at dawn/dusk as this is the time they will be heading to and getting up from their dens. You may hear them before you see them. If you encounter wild boar, stay calm and unobtrusive in the hope they go away.

Copperhead Snakes

By Thomas Fatora – Own work

One of four species of venomous snakes in Tennessee (they are also found in Oklahoma), the copperhead has a distinctive copper colour head and a light brown body with darker bands of brown along the length. These snakes are usually found in forested or woodland areas, perhaps near water, but rarely in unsheltered open areas. They measure between two and three feet in length. During the summer they tend to only be active during the night, but for the rest of the year they are active during the day.

These snakes don’t mess about. If they see you and can reach you they will likely bite you. The best thing to do is keep out of striking distance. Bites from a copperhead hurt and have these symptoms:

  • nausea
  • breathing restrictions with, in severe cases, arrested breathing
  • fever and sweating
  • disturbed vision.
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Timber Rattlesnakes

Image by Usman Khaleel (Moe) from Pixabay

The timber rattlesnake likes a similar habitat to that of the copperhead. Timber rattlesnakes also become nocturnal during the summer heat. They are brown and sometimes yellow in colour with a dark tip on the tail. They can be longer than a copperhead and the longest ever recorded was just over six feet!

Rattlesnakes get their name from the distinctive rattle type sound they make. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth and blow through your tongue so it vibrates. That sound is similar to the sound of a rattlesnake.

Symptoms from timber rattlesnake bites vary, including:

  • feelings of numbness in parts of the body
  • feeling dizzy or weak
  • fever
  • disturbed vision
  • respiratory problems.

Snakes like to eat small rodents, birds and will snack on insects too. Although they are among the most dangerous animals in Tennessee, being killed by a snake is not as common as many think. In the United States, less than ten people are killed every year from snake bites. If you are bitten by a snake do not attempt to wash the wound or suck out the venom. Stay calm and get medical help.

Are there wolves in Tennessee?

Officially, no, there are no wolves in Tennessee. Some people think they have spotted these animals recently, but they were probably confusing them with coyotes or even domestic dogs. Wolves were native to the Smoky Mountains many years ago but no longer make it their home.

There was a failed attempt to reintroduce the red wolf to the area in 1991. After being released into the Smoky Mountains the wolves either succumbed to disease or left the area in search of food. On realizing the project would not be successful, the few remaining live wolves were captured and relocated in the United States.

Do black panthers live in Tennessee?

Black panther is the term given to any species of the cat family that is black, or melanistic. There are no black panthers in the state of Tennessee. In the entire United States, the only species of black cat is the black bobcat population that has a home in the state of Florida. Apart from the domesticated feline which can be found everywhere. The most common examples of black panthers are the black jaguar found in Central and South America and the black leopard found in Africa and Asia.

black panther
Image by katerinavulcova from Pixabay

Do mountain lions live in Tennessee?

Mountain lions do live in Tennessee although the population has dwindled. They are susceptible to feline disease. Some people claim there are no mountain lions left here at all, but given that there are up to ten sightings a year in the Smoky Mountains it would appear that this animal is making a comeback to the state.

Also known as cougars, pumas and panthers, did you know they are one and the same animal? They are tan in colour and can be up to 90cm tall and they have long bushy tails. They grow up to five feet, not including the tail. While not as fast as the fastest land animal the cheetah, mountain lions can run up to 50mph.

Are there grizzly bears in Tennessee?

Grizzly bears are brown bears and seeing as only black bears are known to live in this state it is safe to say that people will not encounter a grizzly here. They are related to black bears though, but they are the larger and grumpier relative. If you had to choose between encountering a black bear and a grizzly, then pick a black bear. The grizzly has a short temper and is more likely to kill a human than their slightly smaller relative. While you won’t find them in the Smoky Mountains or anywhere else in this state, they do appear on the list for the most dangerous animals in North America.

Conclusion: Do you still want to visit Tennessee?

Although this is a list of dangerous animals in Tennessee, remember that people and wildlife usually co-exist happily. The incidences of wild animals killing people are actually quite rare. The key is to be alert and respectful of the environment – and prepared for all eventualities. Have you been to Tennessee or visited the Smoky Mountains? We’d love to hear if you have and if you had any dangerous encounters!


James Ardimento has spent the last 12 years journeying around the globe ! With its precious experiences and tips he gained around Asia, South America, Europe and the US he is a precious asset for this blog and for its readers