Ask A Scientist

What is the most feared animal in the wild? 

Asked by: Connor Green
School: Maine-Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Kevin Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: Playing basketball and lacrosse
Career Interest: NBA basketball player

Answer from George Catalano

Professor of Bioengineering

Research area: Restoration of wolves and animal rights, turbulence, aerodynamics, environmental ethics, modeling ecosystems,
PhD School: University of Virginia, aerospace engineering, 1977
Interests/hobbies: All things Italian, especially Ferraris, Alfa Romeos and Ducatis, model trains and cars.
Family: Wife, Karen, is a registered yoga teacher at Yoga for Everybody at the Orthopedic Associates; lives with two Alaskan Malamutes, four more in our hearts.

Many of us have grown up listening to fairy tales read to us by our parents, grandparents or other family members. Perhaps you have heard the story of that dastardly animal who sneaked into a cottage in the country, did in a grandmother and waited in ambush for the arrival of a young lady wearing a red, riding hood? Or maybe you heard of those delightful farm pigs who carefully built their homes of different materials only to have that same animal knock down each of their homes and eventually they met the same fate. What kind of animal could do such a thing? So to answer your question at least for North America and Europe, one of the most feared animals has to be the wolf. No animal has been so demonized and thus been the focus of hatred and often government sanctioned killing.

Wolves once roamed across most of North America. Over thousands of years wolves developed side by side with their prey, filling an important role in the web of life. Wolf kills provided a source of food for numerous other species such as bears, foxes, eagles and ravens. Wolves even contributed to forest health by keeping deer and elk populations in check, thus preventing overgrazing and soil erosion. Well into the 20th century, the belief that wolves posed a threat to human safety persisted despite documentation to the contrary. By the 1970s, only 500 to 1,000 wolves remained in the lower 48 states, occupying less than three percent of their former range. Wolves are making a comeback in the Great Lakes, northern Rockies and Southwestern United States, yet their status in each of these regions is still very much in doubt due to changes in their legal protection.

For years, wolves were listed as endangered and provided protection through the Endangered Species Act. Now, sadly, as the political winds of our nation have changed, many states are actually reintroducing wolf bounties in their efforts to once again remove wolves from the countryside.

Wolves are incredibly shy, particularly when humans are nearby. It is very difficult to actually ever see a wolf in the wild…or is it? The next time you walk your dog or spot neighbors playing with their dog in the backyard, you are actually in the presence of a descendant of the wolf. Maybe they are not so scary after all.


Last Updated: 3/1/17