When dangerous wild animals are mentioned most people don’t think of the UK. And for good reason. Generally speaking there isn’t much in the way of animals that presents any danger to humans. That was made sure of in Medieval times when all the wolves, bears, wild boars and man-eating hedgehogs were hunted to extinction.
Given that there aren’t that many animals that would normally be considered deadly it took a bit of head scratching to come up with this list. Rather than focus on only wild animals I decided to just look at the figures and choose the animals found in Britain that were most likely to cause death or injury.
10. Killer Whale / Orca
Maybe this shouldn’t be on the list but then again this is possibly the most powerful predator on the planet. They are also known to commonly frequent the waters around the UK. Now, I know there aren’t any recorded unprovoked killer whale attacks but imagine if one of these monsters did turn bad…
At up to 35 ft (10m) in length, weighing 10 tons and capable of swimming nearly 40 mph (60 km/h) the killer whale has little trouble tackling any size of prey. They have been known to take on sperm whales, blue whales and even great white sharks which they dispatch with little trouble. More commonly they prey on seals and sea lions which they kill with a headbut or a blow from the tail.
With those credentials I figured I had to include the killer whale on this list – even though you are much more likely to be chased by a seal.
Unlike Australia, for example, the UK is not known for its plethora of deadly biting spiders. In fact there isn’t a single record of anyone dying from a spider bite in Britain. But, that isn’t to say we don’t have a fair few eight-legged critters that are capable of giving a quite nasty nip.
There are around 15 British spiders that are on record as having bitten anyone. The severity varies from barely noticeable and a bit itchy to about as bad as a wasp sting. Anyone in the UK who hasn’t been living under a rock will probably have heard of the False Widow spider (Steatoda nobilis). This is the most venomous British spider and is becoming increasingly common. It’s related to the notorious Black Widow spiders and is kind of a watered down version. As well as a painful bite there can be a few system-wide symptoms like feeling unwell and even heart palpitations.
Given the fact all the big wild animals were pretty much wiped out by hunting we’re only left with the fox and badger as wild carnivores. If I had the choice of being locked in a room with an angry badger or an angry fox I’d take the fox any day. The point is though that a badger wouldn’t end up in a room with me as they are shy and retiring creatures. Foxes, however, often come into contact with humans. It used to just be angry chicken farmers or that wonderful upper class British establishment “the hunt”. Now-a-days there are urban foxes; the sort of fox that probably doesn’t even know where milk comes from.
The concept of a fox attack was pretty alien to most people until June 2010 when nine-month-old twins were savaged by a fox that had crept into their house in London. Whilst the injuries didn’t prove life-threatening it showed that foxes were willing and able to attack humans. Whilst rare this is not the only documented fox attack. There have been at least two other attacks over the last several years
Virtually all jellyfish can sting to some degree. They do this with specialised stinger cells on their tentacles which fire out tiny envenomated harpoons at incredible speed.
There are several jellyfish considered native to British waters and a few frequent visitors. Of these two are particularly worthy of mention and can both be considered dangerous.
The Lion’s Mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) is the world’s largest. Its bell can reach 2 metres (7ft) across and its tentacles can stretch for over 40 metres (120ft). It is capable of delivering a particularly severe sting which may result in blisters, muscle cramps and even impaired respiratory and heart function. The stinging cells also remain active long after the animal has died so washed up specimens can still give a nasty sting.
One of the most infamous of all jellyfish is a not uncommon summer visitor to Britain’s coast. The Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis) whilst not a true jellyfish certainly looks and stings like one. Whilst a single sting is not serious getting one of these tentacles tangled around you can be. The venom of the Man o’ War can cause nausea, convulsions and very rarely death (although never in the UK).
Whilst many people retain a romantic view of seagulls following fishing boats into quaint harbours, their distinctive cries a defining feature of the seaside, the reality is they are a growing menace. Now this isn’t necessarily the seagull’s fault. They have been lured more and more into contact with humans by the easy pickings offered from overflowing bins to tourists leaving food lying around.
Whatever the cause they are becoming bolder and more aggressive. Affectionately known as “sky rats” eating anything outside in a British seaside town has become a sure fire invitation to be dive bombed. The prime culprit is the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) which can weigh up to 1.5kg (3.5 lbs). Fortunately unprovoked attacks from the significantly bigger Black-backed Gull (pictured) are less common.
The standard modus operandi of the seagull is to make a couple of low passes which might involve emptying its bowels or stomach on you. Following this, if you haven’t run for cover, the gull will gain altitude and dive, approaching its target from behind. Hitting a top speed of around 40 mph (60 km/h) the gull drags its claws across the victims head often resulting in a deep cut.
In recent attacks one woman was hospitalised, a dog pecked to death and a Welsh pensioner died of a heart attack during an attack.