The Scariest Animals, by the Numbers

By Elizabeth Preston | October 16, 2015 11:13 am


Spiders are less scary than snakes, but scarier than clowns. That’s one of the findings of a survey of American fears published this week. The survey creators focused on the things Americans find most frightening: government corruption, cyber-terrorism, and tracking of their personal data, for example. But America’s creepy-crawlies have surely been waiting, in their drains and dark corners, to find out how they ranked.

Chapman University carried out the second annual Survey of American Fears, asking about 1,500 adults across the country how they felt about threats ranging from natural disasters to the paranormal. Last year, in the first version of this survey, they lumped all animals together. “How afraid are you of bugs, snakes, dogs, or any other animal/insect?” the survey asked. Most people answered “not afraid at all” or “somewhat afraid” (36 and 38 percent, respectively). But this year, each of these living things got its own question.

Spiders and insects

Spiders still had to share a survey item with bees and other bugs. Given that zombies and ghosts got their own categories, it might have been fairer to break this down: How afraid are you of stinging insects? What about classic household creepers like cockroaches and centipedes? Anyway, here are the results:

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 9.59.33 AMForty-one percent of people said they weren’t afraid of any bugs. (Judging by what happens when a bee flies around a potluck, some of these people are lying.) More than a quarter admitted to being either “afraid” or “very afraid.”

That means bugs are roughly as frightening to Americans as public speaking (38% not afraid, 28% afraid or very afraid). A question about heights got similar results: 42% of respondents are not afraid of heights, and 27% are afraid or very afraid. People afraid of spiders and heights presumably have to avoid both their basements and roofs, and stay in the middle floors of their houses.


Snakes also got grouped together with other reptiles. But let’s be honest—most survey respondents were probably not imagining being menaced by a gecko or iguana.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 10.00.08 AM

Roughly a third of people said they aren’t afraid of snakes at all (35%) and another third said they’re afraid or very afraid (33%). This makes snakes approximately as scary as a devastating tornado (37% not afraid, 32% afraid or very afraid) or a nuclear weapons attack (34% and 34%).


The survey creators grouped dogs with rats and other animals, so anyone with a phobia of bats, cats or opossums would have been in this group too.

Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 10.00.38 AMThese were the least scary animals, with about 59% of respondents denying any fear. About 13% said they were afraid or very afraid of one of these animals. What else is as non-threatening as a dog or rat? “Murder by a stranger” got similar results, with 60% not afraid and 16% afraid or very afraid.

Of course, being murdered by a stranger is a lot less likely than crossing paths with a dog, so people may be approaching these questions differently. One is a fear of a fatal hypothetical taking place, and the other is fear felt during a common experience. Speaking of non-hypotheticals, “whites no longer being the majority in the U.S.” had similar numbers: 60% of people said they weren’t afraid of this, and 18% said they were afraid or very afraid. (There was no category for those of us somewhat afraid of that 18%.)

In the battle to be American nightmare fuel, then, snakes are beating spiders. Dogs and other mammals are in third place. Meanwhile about 10% of people said they’re afraid or very afraid of ghosts, 9% of zombies, and 7% of clowns. Maybe next year the survey will include bees and opossums, and the race will really get interesting.


Help do some science! Want to be part of a scientific study without leaving your chair or sniffing a poop stick? I’ve teamed up with researcher Paige Brown Jarreau to create a survey of Inkfish readers. By participating, you’ll be helping me improve Inkfish and contributing Paige’s research on blog readership. You will also get FREE science art from Paige’s Photography for participating, as well as a chance to win a t-shirt and other perks. It should take 10-15 minutes to complete the survey, which you can find here: Thank you!!


Image: by James Murty (via Flickr)

Complete Survey of American Fears results here.

  • OWilson

    I believe the more exposure you have to these critters the less afraid you become.

    Circus folk are less afraid of clowns, and after a week of wilderness camping and canoeing, I’m not as skittish about spiders and snakes, or even the proximity of bears.

    (Until next time!) :)

  • Uncle Al

    Jerusalem crickets. They’ll get your brain screaming and oozing (re Outer Limits “Zanti Misfits”).

  • sharon

    Is can be bite

  • sharon

    Not that scary so what

  • Just call me Joe

    The most dangerous animal in North America is the white tailed deer. Kills more people than all others combined.

    • birder69

      Wrong. The most dangerous animal in North America is the human being. They definitely kill more people than all others combined, and more other animals than all others combined.

      • NavyBlue1962

        Wrong. The most dangerous animals in North America are democrats.

        • birder69

          Yep, I remember how a loud-mouthed Democrat actor invaded mighty Grenada and spent the country broke on “star wars”; and I remember how a retarded Democrat never did a damn thing when 3,000 Americans were murdered in the towers by his Arab friends; and I remember how his side-kick draft-dodging Democrat oil man reaped billions for his Halliburton Corporation by wars in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan where Americans are still uselessly dying.

          Oh, wait, that’s not right is it?

          • Elizabeth Preston

            Hi all! Let’s keep comments civil and/or relevant, please.

          • Gerald Wonnacott

            Navy blue started it bringing politics into this story.

          • NavyBlue1962

            And I remember how a screwball republican named Johnson lied through his teeth about The USS Turner Joy and the so-called Gulf Of Tonkin Incident and got 55,000 killed and many more maimed for life.

  • Robin Krop

    Actually, it’s a lot worse than this. Ticks are now infected with Lyme disease and co-infections like babesia, bartonella, ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and more. Lyme disease can result in presentations like ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s (yes, reseracher Alan McDonald is finding spirochetal bacteria in autopsied brains of those who died from Alzheimer’s). Plus there are reports of other biting insects passing these illnesses – mosquitos, biting flies, mites, spiders, etc. BEST TO HAVE BUG REPELLENT ON US AND OUR PETS THESE DAYS!!

  • DarkHorseSki

    Where are our finned friends? I’m reasonably sure that most folks are scared of sharks.

  • atanu nath

    To me humans are the scariest animal ! Others kill for defense, for food but humans kill in the name of race, religion, gender, whatever… and blah blah blah…

    • Afraid to Name

      Chimps kill each other for no good reason other than their victim being part of the ‘other’ group.

      • Ian Morrison

        Like humans

  • Overburdened_Planet

    I’m not afraid of heights.

    I’m afraid of widths…

  • Overburdened_Planet

    Forty-one percent of people said they weren’t afraid of any bugs. (Judging by what happens when a bee flies around a potluck, some of these people are lying.)

    Then that means all survey results should be questioned.

    How about testing participants with actual insects and note their reactions?


    I fear our own secret United States Government,more than anything else, let’s take a look at some government whoppes (1) No UFO ever crashed at Roswell, NM (Yet 355 witnesses said one did) (2) 287 aprox camera were running around the penteagon on 9/11 yet only one video (Time laps no less was released) what were the other 286 video cameras showing (3) Need to test LSD,well hell use the hippies in San Francisco said the CIA, these people don’t matter (4) Shyphilis let;s let people die from it (Mostly Negro Males) and see what happens (5) Hillary Clinton, running for President of the United States of American, while being called before a senate investigation, Oh where is Bill playing with his droan?

    YUCAIPA, CA 92399 U.S.A.

    • Sweet Grover Cleveland

      This just made my brain sad.

  • The History Man

    Who are these people NOT afraid of a nuclear attack? Are they totally barmy?

    • Gerald Wonnacott

      maybe they do not expect it will happen!

  • Gerald Wonnacott

    I am afraid (only afraid not terrified, yet) that articles like this make me dumber not smarter…

  • John Goatbirth

    What amazes me is that the common donkey produces more saliva than even the house goose. What’s even more astonishing is that the common donkey’s bray can be as loud as one of John Bonham’s superfluously prolonged drum solos. That is to say, unpleasantly loud, and in need of subtlety over outright thunderous groove.

  • Braden Lloyd


  • Hollis Butts

    Most afraid? I can’t decide between Hillary and Trump.

  • disgustedvet

    Clowns suck .



Like the wily and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into the far corners of science news and brings you back surprises (and the occasional sea creature). The ink is virtual but the research is real.

About Elizabeth Preston

Elizabeth Preston is a science writer whose articles have appeared in publications including Slate, Nautilus, and National Geographic. She's also the former editor of the children's science magazine Muse, where she still writes in the voice of a know-it-all bovine. She lives in Massachusetts. Read more and see her other writing here.


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