What's the Deadliest Animal On Earth? Hint: Not the Shark

When you think of the world's deadliest animals, a few leap, slither, or run readily to mind: Sharks, crocodiles, snakes, hippos, and elephants are all in the top 20. And as boring as it sounds, bugs and parasites also make the list, with mosquitoes bringing home the trophy as they kill around 1 million people per year.

Humans are number two at 475,000, which is just about the saddest thing I can think of. Rampant malaria easily makes mosquitoes the deadliest animals on earth, but it's everything mankind has ever created that makes us the second-deadliest.

Snakes are third at 50,000, dogs are fourth at 25,000, and tsetse flies round out the top five, causing 10,000 deaths per year.

In fact, it's a three-way tie for fifth place when you include assassin bugs and freshwater snails, which also kill 10,000 people each year. Not the same people, of course. Assassin bugs and snails don't join forces and go on multi-state killing sprees.

Also, assassin bugs are not as cool as they sound; they kill their enemies with polonium-210 or throw them out of a tall building.

Wait, sorry, that's how Russian dictators kill their enemies; assassin bugs transmit a deadly parasite through their feces. Freshwater snails are equally icky, transmitting parasites that can cause digestive issues and bladder cancer.

I'm sure it's unpleasant to die from an animal attack, but there's at least a certain sense of badassery to it.

"Gee, Billy, I'm sorry a bear killed your mom."

"Thanks. Who knew things could go so wrong at the koala habitat?"

It's almost comical to die from an animal attack. How do you even explain that to other people? We all know someone who has died from more mundane causes, but how would you bring this up in conversation?

"I lost my mom to cancer."

"My husband had a heart attack."

"My brother was eaten by a hippo."

It's not very likely, but it's also not impossible either. There are roughly 500 hippo-related deaths per year.

In fact, hippos and elephants are both equally deadly, each killing 500 people a year, but they don't seem that frightening or dangerous. We've seen too many cartoons with dancing hippos and elephants who wear suits and live in Paris.

The crocodile is as deadly as both the hippo and elephant together, coming in at 1,000 deaths per year. Not to be confused with alligators, which only cause one death per year. This has given alligators an inferiority complex.

Surprisingly, sharks barely make the list. They may be scary, but they're not nearly as dangerous as everyone thinks. According to the World Atlas, sharks only kill ten people each year — 1% of crocodile attacks.

Except this year was not looking good for sharks. As we rolled into Q4, it looked like they weren't going to hit their year-end goal for the first time in years as there had only been eight fatal attacks by October 1. The experts fretted that sharks were going to slip in the rankings.

But the sharks got their pointy heads together, brainstormed a new strategy, and with a strong push in the 11th hour, hit their numbers with a few weeks to spare. 

On December 4th, a woman was killed by a shark at a beach resort on Mexico's west coast. And a day later, an American woman was killed in an attack while she was paddleboarding in the Bahamas. Again, way less deadly than elephants, but nobody has written a beloved children's book series about a family of royal sharks who wear suits and crowns.

All of this reminded me why Indiana is so great: no one has ever died of a shark attack in Indiana. Or a hippopotamus attack. And we don't have crocodiles. We've also been tidal wave-free for a billion years, which, as far as I'm concerned, makes us one of the best states in the country.

But there are still plenty of dangers in Indiana, so we're not completely safe.

That's because, according to some reports, cows are responsible for 22 deaths annually in the United States alone. Horses have caused 20 deaths, and ants kill 30 people each year.

We have plenty of cows, horses, and ants in Indiana, although fire ants are the problem, not regular ants. And we don't have fire ants in Indiana yet, so we're probably safe there.

But we do have cows and horses, which means you have to be on your toes at all times. You could be standing down by the creek one day when a Hereford comes roaring out of the water and drags you under. Cows are tricky and clever, and don't let anyone tell you any differently.

When you get down to it, just about anything can kill you. The question is how cool do you want it to be when it happens? Do you want to be just another statistic who went out like everyone else? Or do you want to be the subject of a story that people laugh about uncomfortably for the next 20 years?

Because the sharks are taking reservations for 2024, as they're hoping to catch up to ants within the next five years.

Photo credit: Great White Shark: Sharkcrew (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)
Holstein Cown (Dennis Jarvis (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available from 4 Horsemen Publications. You can get the ebook and print versions here.