The Hollywood media thrives on sensationalism, exaggerating ordinary human experiences and much of the world around us into something exciting, funny, and sometimes terrifying. This isn’t inherently a bad thing: entertainment is meant to entertain.
However, that fact, along with some natural human biases, caused many of us to view much of North America’s not-so-dangerous wildlife as fearsome, and yet truly dangerous animals as harmless, cute, or just plain unknown and rarely discussed. These misplaced reputations are too entrenched to fade easily, but discussing them is good and important, even as many of us learn how easily misconceptions spread.
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10 Excessively Feared: American Crocodile
Alligators are a big part of American culture, often presented as a realistic approximation of terrifying monsters, compared to dinosaurs, and feared but beloved wildlife icons of the South and Southeast United States.
They are certainly quite intimidating: a large, muscular, armored body and a tremendously powerful bite that can crack a turtle’s shell with sharp teeth visible at all times. Combine all of that with a seemingly snarling disposition and its frequency in rural, swampy, and river-adjacent areas to create the image of a truly intimidating creature.
All of that is true, and they certainly shouldn’t be addressed. However, they are not really much of a threat. A rather timid personality and natural inclination to run away from humans rather than fight them means that they are much more likely to be monsters in the movies than in real life.
9 Not Feared Enough: Moose
On the other end of things, moose are frequently perceived as charming, if unsightly, icons of the colder parts of North America, particularly Canada and Alaska, even though their range is much wider than that. .
In some ways, moose are truly amazing to behold. The largest members of the deer family, taller than many adult humans and with a potential weight of more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), it’s easy to see how amazing they are. And yet it’s also quite easy to imagine the threat they could pose.
Moose are unpredictable, potentially aggressive, and responsible for many gruesome car accidents, as well as attacks on humans. While most encounters gone wrong don’t result in death, in places like Alaska, they injure more people each year than bears do. They are certainly wonderful creatures, but they are best admired from a distance, not unlike most animals, in all fairness.
8 Excessively Feared: Black Widow Spider
A common symbol of arachnophobia, often demonized and misunderstood, black widow spiders intimidate millions with their sleek, lanky appearance, powerful venom, and iconic coloring. They are also much, much less of a threat to people than we are to them.
Reluctant to bite unless rooted in their skin and generally quite reclusive, these spiders, while potentially dangerous, would prefer to be left alone.
Even when bites do occur, fatalities are spectacularly rare, mostly occurring in young children, the sick, or the elderly. Still tragic, to be sure, but with only 4-8 annual deaths in the United States, they should be far from the pressing concern they claim to be.
7 Not Feared Enough: Gila Monster
Despite having “monster” in its name, people rarely talk about this striking and impressive-looking lizard. Not often seen in movies, Hollywood seems to be ignoring this monster in its quest to put other animals in the same spotlight, and yet Gila monsters may deserve it more than some.
While unlikely to kill you, Gila monsters are fairly slow but very hardy, growing to about 2 feet in length and are one of the few venomous lizards in the world.
Its poison, again, fortunately is not deadly. However, it is a substance with incredibly unpleasant neurological effects, and one that produces excruciating, debilitating pain worse than most animals could inflict. It may not be dangerous, but it’s definitely something best avoided.
6 Excessively Feared: Cougar
Cougars, generally known as mountain lions in North America, are by far the largest native cat in the considerably large area in which they are found.
As ferocious predators that can overpower extremely large prey, they are hands down more dangerous than any other cat you might encounter living in the United States or Canada. If this weren’t enough, they scream, making a loud, horrific sound that, to many, sounds like a woman in grave danger. That being said, contrary to what many of us are led to believe, they in no way compare to other, much more dangerous big cats.
Attacks on humans are extremely rare and almost never fatal. Unfortunately, a child alone in their territory could be in danger, but in most scenarios, they pose as much of a threat as house cats. As usual, don’t get close to them, but don’t imagine them as tigers either, as tigers they certainly aren’t.
5 Not Feared Enough: Alligator Snapping Turtle
Perhaps it’s an ironic twist that alligators are too feared and a turtle named after them not nearly enough, though it makes sense. Royal alligators, though exaggerated as a threat, are still formidable animals. Turtles, however, are not usually seen that way. However, as we will see, not all turtles are so harmless.
Alligator snapping turtles are heavily armed, wonderfully prehistoric creatures equipped with a menacing beak. They grow larger than any other freshwater turtle, even weighing up to 175 pounds (80 kilograms), with one rumored specimen found in Kansas reportedly weighing a staggering 400 pounds (180 kilograms).
His beak isn’t just for show, either. With a bite force of over 1000 PSI, it’s powerful enough to break bone. It may “just” be a turtle, but a broken arm will still be a broken arm.
4 Excessively Feared: Bears
Although many admit that its appearance is cute and cuddly, those same people tend to add that hugging a bear would end very, very badly. That is certainly true; Staying away from wild animals is, as always, the wisest course of action, especially with one as large and equipped with as many fearsome weapons as bears.
That being said, bears are surprisingly gentle animals. Despite all the survival techniques and various tips and tricks on how to survive a bear attack, many of which are more folklore than reality, bears most likely want nothing to do with you.
Unless a bear is feeling particularly threatened or hungry or a human is behaving in a way that would trigger certain predatory instincts, they are much more likely to flee than fight. Although attacks do happen, you are more likely to be killed by dogs or even lightning than by these fluffy omnivores.
3 Not Feared Enough: Polar Bear
However, one notable and important exception that bears are more intimidating than actually dangerous is the polar bear. The lack of exposure most of us have to these animals means we generally know them as cute soda mascots or cartoon characters.
A fact that might go unnoticed by some is that polar bears are actually found in North America, specifically in northern Alaska and Canada.
With legs that are 1 foot (0.3 meters) long, a top speed greater than that of any human, and a more ferocious appetite due to the scarcity of food available to them, it’s lucky that many of us never encounter one. Its range is small, tragically actually, and steadily decreasing. While there are hardly any animals that could pose a threat to these incredible predators, unfortunately, the melting sea ice they largely occupy is.
2 Excessively Feared: The Brown Recluse Spider
Black widows, though infamous, are a very recognizable and familiar spider to many who live in their range. The way people fear them, while exaggerated, is at least well founded. The same cannot be said for the terribly infamous brown recluse spider.
Often misidentified, the first major problem is that people often claim they saw a brown recluse or even got bitten by one, but the real culprit was no such thing. The violin shape on its back, while highly identifiable, is not something people look for enough, often calling any brown arachnid a brown recluse.
Also, royal brown recluse spiders are still much less of a danger to people than many realize. Their bite, sometimes with a necrotic effect, results in some gruesome images. However, such effects are relatively rare, the full experience rarely resulting in death, especially in a healthy adult. This is of course only if you manage to get one to bite you. As its name suggests, the brown recluse is fortunately quite reclusive.
1 Not Feared Enough: Whitetail Deer
With images from cute animated movies, whitetail deer are beautiful and majestic animals that are loved for very good reasons. An amazing sight as adults and quite adorable to many as fawns with their white spotted coats, they are often thought of as harmless and friendly animals.
The reality, honestly, is not very far from that. They can be defensive, to be sure, and the antlers on an adult male aren’t something anyone should be targeted for, but they’re really not a major concern in general. As always, stay away, but fear is not too necessary either.
And yet, deer are the deadliest animal in the United States. A fine sight, not particularly threatening in person compared to many others, but it is an animal that causes approximately 1.5 million vehicle accidents each year, resulting in about 150 deaths a year. It is not a threatening animal in the traditional sense, no. But in the car-centric culture of North America, they do more damage than any other.
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