By definition, an Apex predator is any adult animal that has no natural predator within its ecosystem. That includes a long list of razor-clawed carnivores and creepy crawlies. But which critter is really the deadliest of them all? Here are the 10 that make my short list for the baddest of the bad boys from around the world.
Let us know whose tops on your list by taking our exclusive “Deadliest Poll” and add your favorite bad guys in the comments section.
On the Arctic icecap every creature fears the polar bear and with good reason. These mighty nomads are the largest land carnivores on earth (a position shared with the Kodiak brown bears of southern Alaska) and anything on the ice, and sometimes just below it, is food.
Ursus maritimus is a master of stealth dressed in snow camo. Polar bears have been known to stake out blowholes in the ice for hours, waiting for seals to come up for a gulp of air. When unsuspecting seals surface, one swipe of the paw is all it takes to put seal tartar on the menu.
Weight: 750 – 1,200 pounds
Size: Over 4 feet at the shoulder. When standing on hind legs, large males can reach more than 10 feet.
Weapons: Two-inch claws, brutish strength, may have the best sense of smell in the entire animal kingdom. Hearing is at least the equal of humans.
Attitude: aggressive. Anything on the ice is fair game.
Creepy characteristic: They are excellent swimmers—able to reach swimming speeds of just over 6 miles per hour. By contrast, the average human swimmer can only swim about 2 miles per hour.
The ocean is literally swimming with deadly candidates, from poisonous puffer fish and lethal jellyfish, to toxic sea snakes. But it’s the guys in the gray suits that set that little voice in the back of our minds to screaming “uh, oh!”
And, while falling overboard at night in the Florida Keys would put you squarely on the dining room table of ultra-aggressive bull shark, it’s the great white that tops my list in the pelagic category.
Yes, Carcharodon carcharias has all the requisites for being at the top of the food chain in his environment. He’s fast (GW’s have been clocked at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour), he can turn on a dime and he is seemingly always hungry.
Weight: 1,500 to 2,400 pounds
Size: According to the Canadian Shark Research Center, the world’s largest, accurately measured great white measured 20 feet in length — that’s longer than a lot of flats or bass boats.
Weapons: About 300 serrated teeth, skin like #4 sandpaper, deadly sense of smell capable of detecting even tiny amounts of blood in water up to 3 miles away.
Attitude: Curious is probably a good way to describe GW’s, but put a few drops of blood in their water and let the Cuisinarting begin.
Creepy characteristic: They eat anything. Oddities found in the stomachs of sharks over the years have included a box of nails, shoes, chairs, the back half of a horse, bottles of wine and even a torpedo.
The American South is gator city and Alligator mississippiensis certainly deserves our respect, but it’s Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) that are the true bad boys. Accounts vary widely on death tolls per annum, but numbers range from 200 to 2,500 deaths every year. And those are only the deaths that are reported. No doubt many more head down to the local river to wash clothes or fetch water and simply disappear.
Their Australian cousins, Crocodylus porosus, may actually be even worse culprits. Australia’s deadly saltwater crocodiles hold dual titles as the largest living reptiles (up to 2,200 pounds) as well as the largest terrestrial predators on Earth. They are very aggressive and are saltwater cruisers, making them death incarnate on practically every estuary north of Brisbane.
Weight: Up to 1,650 pounds
Size: Up to 20 feet in length.
Weapons: Tons of teeth, ultra-stealthy, extremely quick at close range.
Attitude: Pea-brained but always looking for an easy meal.
Creepy characteristic: Can eat up to half its weight at a single feeding.
What list would be complete without mentioning Panthera leo, the “king of beasts?” And who better to hold the man-eating record than the famous “Man-eaters of Tsavo.”
This duo of maneless male lions racked up an incredible tally of some 135 kills while feasting on a virtual smorgasbord of human workers building a bridge across the Tsavo River in Kenya in 1898 for the Kenya-Uganda Railway. Though modern forensic research puts the number closer to 35 victims, that’s still quite a total.
Interestingly, though, in the natural world, it is the female lioness that does most of the killing.
Weight: 330 to 500 pounds
Size: 4 feet at the shoulder and 5 to 8 feet in length.
Weapons: Ultra cunning, keen senses of sight, smell and hearing.
Attitude: Lethargic on a full stomach, but when the pride goes out for a midnight snack, watch out.
Creepy characteristic: Like the velociraptors in Jurrasic Park, lionesses like to hunt in pairs.
Lovable dogs? Hardly. Ask most African locals what animal they fear most, and old laughing boy is usually right near the top. Crocuta crocuta is persistent and, like the coyote, never very far from humans or an easy meal.
Hyenas like to prey on the aged and infirm. When elderly tribesmen disappear in the bush, these guys are usually responsible for the ax work.
Weight: 89 to 120 pounds
Size: 2 ½ to 3 feet at the shoulder
Weapons: Bone-crushing jaws capable of generating 80 kgf/cm2 of force — some 40 percent more than a leopard and more bone-crushing ability that the brown bear. They are also capable of running 40 miles per hour.
Attitude: Ultra cunning, keen senses of sight, smell and hearing
Creepy characteristic: Though they generally shy away from man, hyenas are not against adding people to the menu. Hyenas have been reported sneaking into camps and biting the faces off sleeping victims.
In their eco-system, few can rival the sheer killing power of these amazing predators. Renowned for their intelligence and a strict hierarchy within their own societal packs, Canis lupus fears no one (other than armed man). The damage done to western deer and elk herds in recent years is a testament to their killing abilities.
Think wolves killing humans is a myth? The chilling stories of Candice Berner, a schoolteacher in Alaska who was out for a jog in March 2010 and Ken Joel Carnegie, who went for a walk outside a geological survey camp in northern Saskatchewan are two of the most recent examples.
Neither returned. Coroner’s reports said both fatalities were caused by wolves that mauled the victims to death.
Weight: 110 pounds
Size: 2 ½ feet at the shoulder.
Weapons: Speed (wolves have been clocked up to 37 miles per hour), cunning. Gang mentality and the tactical smarts of a wilderness general.
Attitude: Ultra cunning, keen senses of sight, smell and hearing. Speed and bone-cracking jaws.
Creepy characteristic: A wolf can eat 20 percent of its body weight in a single feeding and they have a fondness for internal organs — heart, liver and lungs.
Ursus horriblis. With a name like that what’s not to be afraid of? While incidences of grizzlies actually killing people are few, stats are up on run-ins by hikers and hunters with Brar bear; few of which end well for those on two legs.
Weight: While adult inland grizzlies generally top out at around 850 pounds, though their Alaskan brown bear cousins easily reach 1,500 pounds owing to their high-protein diet of salmon.
Size: 5 to 8 feet.
Weapons: Speed (few animals are faster in the 40-yard dash), strength, and knife-like claws that open prey with not-so-surgical precision. Add a keen sense of hearing and smell and you have a very potent adversary here.
Attitude: Depends on the day and the encounter. Surprise a bear on a trail and it’s even odds that the bear will either false charge, in hopes you’ll turn tail and run or he’ll just keep coming and turn you into puree. Get between a mother and her cubs and you have problems. Some 70 percent of human fatalities are caused by mother grizzlies defending their cubs.
Creepy characteristic: They like to cover their victims with brush and come back later for the full dining experience.
African King Quiz
The brown recluse spider is nasty (check out what happens to your skin when you’re bitten by one of these guys, but be warned, parental guidance is advised. But the arachnid that truly gives one reason to pause (and shiver) is the scorpion. They’re wide spread and come in a variety of colors and flavors (1,500 species worldwide).
Of all the varieties, however, the red scorpion of India is the most deadly. While it is only the size of a cigarette lighter, Buthus Tamulus packs a powerful bite. Depending on the amount of venom injected, victims can experience nausea, heart problems, and in severe cases, pulmonary edema, which may cause death.
Weapons: Small pinchers and a nasty stinger.
Attitude: Though red scorpions don’t go looking for trouble, most bites occur at night when scorpions accidently crawl into beds or fall from ceilings.
Creepy characteristic: Fatality rates run between 8 to 40 percent. Primary victims are children.
I could have just as easily chosen the deadly Taipan from Australia here, as they are the most feared land predator Down Under. And the Eastern diamondback, with its neurotoxic venom, has sent numerous victims to a painful exit here in North America. But I have had first-hand experience with the Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), so he tops my list.
Years ago, while hunting in Zambia, I had a rather smallish 4-footer visit me in my hut. He literally shot in through a small hole at the base of the shower stall where the water drained outside.
He took one look at me, rose up off the ground about half his length and just swayed there for the longest 3 or 4 seconds of my life. Fortunately, he decided I was much larger than the mice he’d come into my hut to chase and flew back out the way he came.
Minutes later, with half the camp beating the bushes, he was quickly dispatched, but I still get the shivers every time I think of how close I came to being struck.
Speed: The black mamba is the fastest snake in Africa and possibly the world and while mythical stories claim the mamba can outrun a horse, its fastest official recorded speed is just under 7 mph.
Size: Adults range from 6 ½ to 9 ½ feet, although some sources claim some measurements in excess of 14 feet.
Weapons: Deadly venom causing collapse in humans within 45 minutes.
Attitude: While the mamba can be extremely aggressive when disturbed, like most snakes, it will attempt to flee unless cornered.
Creepy characteristic: The black mamba takes its name, not from the color of its skin, which is gray, but from the interior of its mouth, which is black as night. Given its deadly reputation, it should come as no surprise that the black mamba’s heads is, well, coffin shaped.
Ah, the jolly fat man of the animal kingdom. Hippopotamus amphibius is no man-eater. He is an herbivore.
However, get between a hippo and the safety of its waterhole and watch out. And in the water kingdom they call home, they will readily attack small boats. In Niger’s capitol of Niamey, 13 people, including 12 children, were killed in 2014 when their boat was overturned by a hippo.
Weight: 3,300 pounds
Size: Nearly 5 feet at the shoulder and 11 to 17 feet long.
Weapons: Massive canine tusks (incisors can reach over a foot in length, while canines can reach up to 1 ½ feet) and the ability to beat feet at an amazing 19 mph when running on dry land.
Attitude: Very aggressive. Territorial bulls or mothers protecting their calves are both forces to be reckoned with. Hippos will attack and capsize small boats and often engage in raiding crops on land, stomping those they encounter into raspberry jam.
Creepy characteristic: Hippos can stay under water for up to 6 minutes and have a lifespan of 40 to 50 years.
Yes, we make the list, but just barely. Any of the animals on this list are fully capable of taking us out in their own habitat, but the statistics would show that man’s inhumanity to man is the biggest killer on earth with humans accounting for some 475,000 deaths worldwide every year.
When it comes to efficiency, no one is better able to devise more ways to kill more people than man himself.
Weight: 180 pounds
Size: 5 feet, 9 inches
Weapons: Highly evolved brains that lead to the invention of weapons of mass destruction from firearms to explosives to atomic bombs.
Creepy characteristic: Highly creative, ability to reason and use deadly tools.
See what it’s like to come face to face with some of North America’s deadliest animals on Sportsman Channel’s Apex Predator, Thursday’s at 8:00 EP. And be sure to join this week’s LIVE Tweet with @RemiWarren during the show.