Come take a walk on the wild side! Let these North American predators satisfy your appetite for some wildlife knowledge!
Predators have their place in the balance of nature and the circle of life. That doesn't make them any less formidable, however, and this group of predators proves it! Several of these vicious beasts are very different from their relatives such as the cats, dogs, pigs and so on which were domesticated by people millennia ago. These intimidating animals use their claws, fangs, talons, and teeth as a means of securing their next meal and guaranteeing their survival.
North American predators are some of the fiercest around, and they can be found in all of the continent's varied landscapes. From deserts to savannahs, swamps to dense forests, coastal waters to the frozen Arctic, animals that prey on others have adapted well to keeping themselves away from the bottom of the food chain. Several of them are, in fact, apex predators with no other animal daring to try and hunt them down. Others have to be on the lookout for predators of their own as they go about chasing, ambushing and catching prey.
Prove you have the guts to come face to face (or, more accurately, face to photo) with some of North America's most vicious predators and live to tell the tale. Start the quiz!
The polar bear is often cited as the largest land predator on Earth. The Kodiak bear (Alaskan brown bear) is of a similar size to the polar bear but, on average, polar bears are larger. Strictly speaking, the polar bear is a marine animal and can be found living throughout the Arctic Circle.
Prey does not normally stand much of a chance against this silent predator. Apart from its stealthy approach, the mountain lion also has the advantage of being able to sprint at 50 miles-per-hour, leap 15 feet into the air and as much as 40 feet away. Its preferred mode of attack is to jump onto the prey’s back and bite its neck or its head.
The gray wolf can hunt on its own but is most often seen hunting in packs. Once caught, prey has very little chance of escape or survival since the biting force of a gray wolf’s jaws is sufficient to crack open the prey’s bones. In fact, the gray wolf bites with about twice as much force as a Rottweiler, German shepherd or pit bull.
The black widow spider is one of the deadliest spiders in North America. It preys on an assortment of bugs that get caught in its web, including beetles, flies, grasshoppers, and mosquitoes. The black widow spider gets its name and some of its bad reputation from the tendency of females to eat their mates after mating.
The bald eagle is not really bald - the word “bald” in its name refers to the white feathers on its head. It is the largest of the North American raptors with a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet and weighing around 14 pounds. The bald eagle eats a variety of prey but is noted for its awesome fish hunting skills.
The American badger’s prey is mostly animals that burrow in the ground. Its diet includes an assortment of snakes, rodents and other small mammals, as well as birds that build their nests on the ground. It is unlikely for prey to survive an attack from the American badger, especially on occasions when it teams with a coyote or two to go hunting.
In terms of size, the coyote is larger than the average dog but smaller than the average wolf. While it is a formidable hunter, the coyote is also a scavenger and will eat dead and even rotting meat (including that of other coyotes). The coyote’s range extends from Canada down into Central America.
The female great white shark really lives up the species’ name. She can grow to lengths of up to 20 feet and weigh over 4,000 pounds. Great white sharks eat an assortment of marine animals and will even attack and devour other sharks. They live in most coastal regions around the world, with the California coastline having a large population of them.
The “horns” on the great horned owl are actually clusters of feathers called ear tufts. The purpose of the great horned owl’s ear tufts is not fully understood by scientists. This raptor (bird of prey) is one of the largest owls in North America and has a diet that includes practically everything, except large mammals.
The bobcat is named for its short, stubby tail and perhaps, too, for its overall size – being the smallest of the four species of lynxes. Its wide assortment of prey is made up mostly of mammals smaller than it is, but the bobcat has been known to prey on birds, insects, and fish (even sharks).
The western diamondback rattlesnake is a native of the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico. While the venom of the western diamondback may not be as deadly as that of other snakes, it is known to deliver large quantities of venom with each bite. It hunts a range of animals, including rodents, birds, and lizards.
Bull sharks are found worldwide in coastal waters, as well as in some rivers and lakes. In North America, they are predominantly found along the U.S. east coast. In fact, the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) lists New Smyrna Beach in Florida as the number one place in the world where a swimmer is most likely to be attacked by a shark.
The copperhead snake, like other snakes in the pit viper family, has special heat sensors on the sides of its head. Its diet is made up of mostly rodents which it likes to hunt by ambush. The copperhead snake is native to regions of eastern North America.
Least weasels may be small (adult males weigh just under 9 ounces) but they are formidable predators. They typically hunt and kill rodents which are smaller than themselves but have been known to take down larger prey, such as rabbits. The least weasel is itself prey to larger predators, such as the great horned owl and the copperhead snake.
The American crocodile can reach lengths of over 15 feet and weigh around 1, 000 pounds with some reports saying they can be much larger. As an adult, the American alligator hunts both on land and in the water. Its prey, which consists of practically every other animal in its environment, need to be very wary of the American alligator as it can run up to 15 miles-per-hour and swim up to 20 miles-per-hour.
A fully grown wolverine weighs in the region of 40 to 50 pounds, making it the largest among the family of animals that includes weasels, otters, ferrets, and badgers. The wolverine is both a scavenger and a skilled hunter, taking down prey of all sizes, including deer and bison.
This nocturnal predator inhabits deserts, shrubland, and grassland in areas of Arizona and New Mexico. Its venom is not particularly dangerous but is enough to subdue small bugs such as insects, spiders, cockroaches, and crickets. The stripe-tailed scorpion then uses its large pincers to crush and kill its prey.
The brown recluse spider is native to some of the Midwestern and Southern U.S. states. It gets its name from its habit of building its web in out-of-the-way places. It is also called a fiddleback spider due to the markings on its back. The brown recluse spider eats insects that get caught in its web, as well as crawling bugs which it hunts.
The cacomistle lives in Mexico at the southern extreme of North America. It is an omnivore with a diet of both plants and animals. When it goes hunting prey, the cacomistle seeks out insects, rodents, amphibians, and reptiles.
The coral snake is one of the most venomous snakes in North America. It is rarely involved in snakebite fatalities, however, due in part to its location and the fact that it is more likely to flee from people than to attack. The style of its fangs means that after this snake bites, it has to make chewing motions on the prey’s flesh to “pump” sufficient venom into it.
The red-tailed hawk is the most common of the U.S. hawks and has a range that extends from Alaska to the West Indian islands. Its scientific name is “Buteo jamaicensis,” which alludes to the fact that it was first sighted on the island of Jamaica. It can exceed 120 miles-per-hour as it swoops down to catch prey, which includes rodents, amphibians, reptiles, and even other birds.
Most people assume that all armadillos can roll into a ball. In fact, nine-banded armadillos cannot accomplish this feat, which three-banded armadillos do with ease. In terms of prey, the nine-banded armadillo prefers insects but will also make a meal of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals.
The Arizona bark scorpion can be found in the northwestern regions of Mexico, as well as in the Sonoran Desert that stretches from California to Arizona. It holds the reputation of being North America’s most venomous scorpion. The Arizona bark scorpion is nocturnal and will prey on centipedes, spiders, insects (such as crickets and cockroaches) and other scorpions.
Grizzlies eat both plants and animals and will prey upon large mammals such as bighorn sheep, elk, and bison. They are also known to include black bear in their diet. Similarly colored grizzly bears and black bears can be distinguished from each other by the large hump on the grizzly’s shoulders – a feature that is absent in the black bear.
The cottonmouth snake is found in wetlands throughout the southeastern United States. It is a very muscular snake that feeds on a variety of animals, including fish, frogs and young alligators. The venom of the cottonmouth snake is extremely toxic and can lead to gangrene and amputation of limbs in humans.
The golden eagle is among the largest of the raptors (birds of prey). It has huge, sharp talons which it uses to grab and hold on to prey. The golden eagle’s diet includes small mammals, lizards, snakes, and other birds. It also has been known to prey upon goats, deer, pigs, and sheep.
The wild boar is not native to North America but is an invasive species, having been introduced to the region by early Europeans as big game for hunters. The original true wild boars are now believed to have interbred with feral pigs (domestic pigs released in the wild). Estimates of the wild boar population put their numbers above 5 million.
The hobo spider enjoys isolation and will typically build its funnel-type web in undisturbed locations. It will feed on flies, cockroaches, beetles, silverfish and other small bugs that wander into the large end of the web and get stuck at the smaller end.
Red foxes can survive very well in the wild but have also adapted to living in areas populated by humans. They are solitary hunters who tend to go in search of prey in the twilight hours (early morning and evening). Apart from consuming a wide variety of prey, red foxes also enjoy dining on fruits.
The giant desert hairy scorpion is the largest scorpion in North America and can be found in desert regions of Mexico and the U.S. states of Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada. Although this scorpion can grow to as much as 7 inches long, its sting is often compared to that of a honeybee. They are known to eat lizards, snakes and small mammals.
The ocelot can be found in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Its beautifully patterned fur acts as camouflage as it hunts prey in forested or swampy areas, as well as savannas. The ocelot takes care to go after small prey and will not normally try to attack animals which are larger than it.
About 70% of black bears actually have a black coat. Other black bears can be a variety of colors, including earthy reds and browns, as well as white (spirit bear of British Columbia) and bluish (glacier bear of Southeast Alaska). Black bears eat mostly vegetation and supplement this with insects such as bees and wasps, as well as fish.
The greater grison is native to Mexico and will typically prey on small mammals, amphibians, birds, and fish. As its name suggests, the greater grison has a close relative called the lesser grison whose range is in South America.
The tiger shark gets its name from the stripes on its sides. It is a nocturnal hunter and will prey on almost any animal living in the warm waters around the world where it is found. Tiger sharks tend to travel alone and are well known for their overly aggressive nature.
Western Mexico is the native home of this predator, but it can also be found in nearby regions of southern Texas. Its name refers to the unmistakable ridge of scales on its tail. It is a fast-moving daytime hunter which often goes after small prey, such as insects, or will seize the opportunity to snatch eggs for a meal.
The raccoon is generally regarded as an intelligent animal with very dexterous front paws. Its name is of Native American origin, meaning “one who rubs, scrubs and scratches with its hands.” Apart from fruits and nuts, the raccoon will eat small animals such as rodents, snakes, and frogs.
The Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard are the only two venomous lizards in North America. Although the Gila monster will eat dead and decaying animals, its favorite food is eggs. It will also prey on other lizards, frogs, insects, birds, and small mammals.
Most would-be predators of the striped skunk know that they need to keep out of range of its blinding, smelly musk spray. The striped skunk eats mainly insects but is also known to include rodents, fish, bird eggs and chicks in its diet.
The Arctic wolf makes it home on islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Its most common sources of food are muskoxen (Arctic cattle) and Arctic hares. It is sometimes referred to as the white wolf or polar wolf.
The black-footed ferret is sometimes called the prairie dog hunter because that animal makes up the bulk of its diet. It will, however, also feed on mice, voles, and rabbits. The black-footed ferret is found in central regions of North America.