Gators and coral snakes and cougars, oh my! 9 dangerous Texas critters you definitely don’t want to mess with

Dangerous Texas critters you definitely don’t want to mess with
Dangerous Texas critters you definitely don’t want to mess with (Pixabay/Getty)

Texas is home to many dangerous critters, both big and small. Here are nine of the most dangerous animals in the state. Oh, and it goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway -- Obviously, you want to steer clear of these creatures if you see them out in the wild or, heaven forbid, in your own home.

American Alligators

A 12-foot alligator was captured near a creek in Clear Lake on April 21, 2021. (Brett Reynolds)

In Texas, the alligator ranges from the Sabine River of East Texas to the Gulf of Mexico and across the coastal marshes to the Rio Grande, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This range includes about 120 counties in East Texas and the Gulf Coastal Plains.

Alligators have sharp teeth and powerful jaws, and weigh as much as 1,000 pounds. Yet, despite their fearsome attributes, alligator-human conflicts are relatively rare because alligators naturally shy away from humans -- that is, unless some misguided, blockheaded nincompoops feed them. Then, gators begin associating people with food, a particularly unfortunate connection.

All in all, only one person has been killed in an alligator attack in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. A 28-year-old man was killed on July 3, 2015 from an alligator attack in Orange, Texas.

Some safety tips: If an alligator hisses at you, it’s warning you that you’re too close. Back away slowly. Oh, and give alligators a wide berth (at least 30 feet). They might seem slow and sluggish sometimes but don’t let that fool you. They can outrun and outswim even the fastest human for the first 30 feet.

19 alligator incidents in the Houston area you might remember

Black Bears

Black bear (Pixabay)

The black bear is a protected and rare species in Texas. A small black bear population is located in West Texas -- though bears have been sighted in other parts of the state from time to time.

Reaching lengths of five to six feet and weighing between 200 and 300 pounds, the black bear is one of the largest mammals in North America. Although generally harmless, black bears can injure humans when provoked and should be treated with caution, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The last person killed by a bear in Texas, 64-year-old William Thomas “Bill” Brown Jr, was killed while trying to recapture a bear from his roadside zoo in 1934.

Fire ants

Well, clearly fire ants can’t maul someone quite the way a black bear can, but these tiny red pests have a mean, albeit small, bite. Fire ants attack quickly and in large numbers and their bite stings -- something almost every Texan has had the unfortunate experience of observing at one point or another. A single mound can contain millions of ants, which can act very quickly when disturbed.

Only a small portion of the population, around 1%, are hypersensitive to ant venom and will experience lethal allergic reactions when bitten, according to the Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project. Those with suppressed immune systems are the most likely to react severely to one or more stings. However, even healthy people can experience severe reactions if they suffer from a multiple stinging incident.

WATCH: Floating fire ant pile spotted in League City flood waters caused by Beta

Kissing Bugs

Kissing bug compared to U.S. penny. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University Agriculture and Life Sciences).

The name sounds adorable, but there is nothing sweet about the “kissing bug.”

The bugs feed on blood and can carry a parasite that can infect people with Chagas’ disease, which can lead to chronic heart disease in about one-third of those infected, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

‘Kissing bug’ on the rise: Everything you need to know about dangerous infection

Mountain Lions

Cougar (Pixabay)

The mountain lion, also known as the as a cougar, panther, catamount or puma, could easily maim anyone that crosses its path. But the large feline is reclusive by nature and generally avoids humans. Only four attacks on humans in Texas have been reported since1980, all of them in remote areas of West Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Portuguese Man-O-War

Portuguese man-of-war. Image from Oceana.org.

Resembling a jellyfish, the Portuguese man-of-war is actually a siphonophore, a colony of organisms. The creature’s gas-filled bubble is blue to pale purple and transparent and its long, thin tentacles can reach up to 15 meters and are armed with thousands of stinging cells called nematocysts. The organisms float on currents and occasionally wash up on Texas beaches. Even if they appear dead, give these guys a wide berth -- their stinging cells remain harmful to humans even if after the organism has died. Getting stung is very painful but only in rare cases do people die from a man-of-war sting, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Sharks

There are about 40 shark species found in the Texas waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Atlantic sharpnose sharks, Blacktip sharks, Bonnethead sharks, Bull sharks, and Spinner sharks are among the most common, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Since 1900, there have been 58 unprovoked shark attacks in Texas, the Shark Attack Database reports. The last fatal attack occurred back in 1962 when an unknown species of shark bit Hans Fix in the leg while the 40-year-old was surf fishing in waist-deep water off Andy Bowie Park on Padre Island.

Snakes

Coral snakes (Pixabay)

Texas is home to over 105 different species and subspecies of snakes -- 15 of those are potentially dangerous to humans, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Coral snakes, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads are among the most common types of venomous snakes in the state. On average, one to two people in Texas die each year from venomous snake bites in Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Venomous snakes in Texas you need to know about

Spiders

A brown recluse spider. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are almost 900 species of spiders in Texas. Thankfully, only two are venomous -- the black widow and the brown recluse.

Only the female black widow is dangerous to humans. The venom of the black widow is a neurotoxin and can cause severe systemic reactions and in rare cases, death. The black widow’s venom is reportedly 15 times more toxic than the venom of the prairie rattlesnake, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Brown recluse venom has necrotizing enzymes that generally cause local or systemic reactions and can cause the death and decay of the tissue surrounding the site of the bite, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Neither the black widow nor the brown recluse spiders are aggressive but they will both bite when trapped, disturbed or threatened, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Anyone who suspects they were bitten by either of these two types of spiders contact the Texas Poison Center Network at 1-800-POISON-1 (1-800-222-1222) or a physician.

Sources: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Shark Attack Database, Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Imported Fire Ant Research and Management Project

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About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.