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Most Dangerous Animals in North Dakota

From the Red River Valley to the Badlands, North Dakota‘s diverse landscapes offer a haven for wildlife, but alongside its natural beauty comes the presence of potentially hazardous creatures.

Fortunately, most wild animals avoid humans, but it’s important to be informed and prepared whenever you spend time outdoors. We’ll go over some of the most dangerous animals in North Dakota, what makes them dangerous to humans, and what to do if you encounter them.


American Bison, sometimes called buffalo, are a hallmark of the North American landscape. Though they are much fewer in number today than they once were, they roam the grasslands and prairies of North Dakota, particularly in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Despite their seemingly placid demeanor, bison can be unpredictable and charge if they feel threatened or startled. They are deceptively quick and agile, Their size and strength make them formidable, capable of causing serious injuries or fatalities.

Maintain a safe distance from bison, especially during the rutting season (July to September) and calving season (May and June). The best way to know if you have enough space between you and a buffalo is to hold your thumb out at arm’s distance and turn it sideways. If your thumb completely covers the bison, you are far enough away. 

If a bison approaches, back away slowly and find shelter behind a tree or other obstacle.

Black Widow Spiders

Black widow spiders are easy to recognize, thanks to the distinctive red hourglass markings on their abdomens. They typically inhabit dark, sheltered areas such as basements, attics, and sheds.

Black widow spiders possess venom containing neurotoxins that can cause severe pain, muscle cramps, and other symptoms, particularly in vulnerable individuals. Fortunately, their bites are rarely fatal.

Wear gloves and long sleeves when working in areas where black widows may reside. Use caution when reaching into dark or hidden spaces. Seek medical attention if bitten.
Mountain lion perched on a rock as it focuses

Mountain Lions

Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are sleek and muscular cats with tawny fur and distinctive long tails. They inhabit a variety of habitats in North Dakota, including forests, grasslands, and badlands.

Mountain lions are skilled hunters and may view humans as prey, particularly if they are alone or vulnerable. While attacks are rare, they can be fatal.

Hike in groups, especially in areas frequented by mountain lions. Make noise to announce your presence, and if you encounter one, maintain eye contact, stand tall, and slowly back away without turning your back.

Prairie Rattlesnakes

The Prairie Rattlesnake is a venomous snake whose range stretches across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions from Canada to Mexico. They are mostly found in the western half of North Dakota. These snakes are typically some shade of green, brown, or yellow and can grow as long as five feet. 

Their venomous bite can cause severe pain, swelling, and potentially life-threatening complications. Rattlesnakes may strike if threatened or provoked.

Wear sturdy boots and long pants when hiking in rattlesnake territory, especially in tall grasses or rocky areas. Stay on designated trails, and be cautious when stepping over rocks or logs. If you encounter a rattlesnake, back away slowly and give it plenty of space. Do not attempt to handle or harm the snake.

White-Tailed DeerWhite-tailed deer in a meadow during a snow storm

Deer are found all throughout North America and are not generally considered to be dangerous to humans. It’s true, they are not predators, nor are they venomous. Their danger lies more in bad timing than bad intentions: deer cause an estimated 1.5 million car accidents in the United States every year.

A survey by an auto insurance company found that North Dakota drivers have about a one in 73 chance of crashing into an animal while driving, making the state a “high risk” area. South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota, all of North Dakota’s border states, all have even higher rates of animal-involved crashes. 

Collisions with wildlife are just as dangerous as other types of car accidents, and often lead to property damage, serious injuries, and fatalities. Be cautious when driving near dawn and dusk, especially in the fall. Slow down, especially as you come around corners or over hills. Use your high beams when it is dark (just remember to dim them when passing other vehicles).


Though many people use “wasps,” “hornets,” and “yellowjackets,” interchangeably, hornets and yellow jackets are technically types of wasps.

Yellow jackets are only about half an inch long with yellow and black markings. Hornets are usually larger, growing up to an inch in size. Hornets also have yellow markings, but not black.

Yellow jackets are more likely to show up at outdoor gatherings, so they are also more likely to sting humans. They typically only sting once, however, because they often die after stinging. Hornet stings, on the other hand, can be more severe. Hornets can also sting more than once because they do not have a barbed stinger that gets caught in human skin.

For the most part, wasp stings are painful but not too dangerous. In some people, though, these stings can cause allergic reactions that can be deadly. If you are not allergic to wasps, you can typically treat a sting by removing the stinger, applying ice, and taking an antihistamine and acetaminophen for swelling and pain.

If you suspect someone is having an allergic reaction after being stung, seek medical attention immediately.

Mosquitoes and Ticks

Bites from mosquitoes and ticks are not generally dangerous on their own, but they can lead to serious diseases. Both insects are active in the spring and summer and both suck blood from humans and animals.

Mosquitoes are often found in wet, marshy areas, though they may also live in forested areas or tall grasses. Ticks wait in brush and grasses to latch onto mammals that walk past.

Mosquito bites can lead to malaria, West Nile virus, and Zika virus, among others. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Colorado tick fever.

Wear long sleeves and pants when spending time in areas where these insects may be living. After spending time outside, check yourself, your children, and your pets for any ticks that may have latched on.


Though they are not considered wild animals, when it comes to biting humans, dogs have a worse track record than any other mammal. Dogs that are unsupervised, untrained, and/or unrestrained can hurt humans, especially children and elderly adults, who may lack the speed and strength to get away from the dog.

Never approach a strange dog without the owner’s permission, and do not allow your children or dogs to do so either. Leash your dog in public spaces, and when at home, keep your dog inside or within a fenced yard. Train your dog to respond to your call immediately.

If you are bitten by an aggressive dog, seek medical attention and report the bite to animal control. If the bite causes serious injuries, consider contacting a dog bite attorney with The North Dakota Advocates. We offer free consultations to discuss your legal options and determine whether you have a valid case.