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The Most Dangerous Creatures in the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River may be mighty, but so are the dangerous creatures that call it home. 

Some reside in the water, while others live along its banks. 

There are plenty of reasons to visit any section of this river, stretching from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Though, the further south you go, the more dangerous the creatures seem to get!

Let’s dive in (not literally!) and learn more about the Mississippi River and its most dangerous creatures. 

About the Mississippi River

Extending over 2,300 miles, the Mississippi River is the second-longest river in the United States. Its waters flow from Lake Itasca in the northern state of Minnesota south to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Native Americans revered and utilized this river for thousands of years before European settlers arrived in the mid-1500s. Its fresh waters provided drinking water, fishing, and transportation to tribes living along its pathway. 

Between 1741 and 1803, various countries attempted to claim the land bordering the river. During this, Britain, Spain, and France all fought for ownership. However, the Louisiana Purchase, where the United States bought French-owned land from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, settled that.

Industrial development continued to rise along the Mississippi River, often displacing Native Americans. In 1927, a monumental flood occurred in the lower part of the river, flooding over 23,000 square miles. The following year, the US Army Corp of Engineers (COE) developed a system of levees and dikes to counter future flooding disasters. 

For nearly 100 years, the Mississippi River has been integral to industrial transportation and agriculture along its banks. However, it’s come at a cost with increased pollution from shipping barges and runoff from nearby farmlands. 

The Mighty Mississippi, named for its vast and turbulent waters, has seven National Park Service sites along its 2,340-mile length. Boating, fishing, and birdwatching are common recreation activities enjoyed in all ten states the river runs through. 

You can find roughly 25% of North America’s fish species in the Mississippi River. Bass, walleye, sturgeon, and bluegill are among the many species found in these waters. 

And, some sections of the Mississippi River, mainly in the southern area, contain dangerous creatures. Let’s find out what these creatures are and how to avoid them.

Pro Tip: Swimming in the Mississippi River too dangerous for you? Why not instead visit these Mississippi Wineries That Are Actually Good.

Two girls playing in the Mississippi River
Before you go for a dip in the Mississippi River, make sure there are no creepy creatures lurking below the surface.

The Most Dangerous Creatures in the Mississippi River

The following creatures found in and around the Mississippi River can pose real dangers. But as long as you’re aware of your surroundings, you can avoid interactions leading to harm.


Primarily found in Louisiana and Mississippi’s waters, these sneaky creatures can be very dangerous. American Alligators, the most common species of gator found in the river, swim quietly through the water. 

Alligators have powerful jaws known for crushing anything caught within their grasp. With 80 very sharp teeth, you want to be sure never to find yourself anywhere near them! 

Fortunately, alligators tend to stay away from humans naturally. So, as long as you don’t seek out their hangout areas, you’re not likely to have any unfortunate run-ins with them. 

Cottonmouth Snake (aka Water Moccasin)

This venomous snake is mostly in marshy areas along the lower Mississippi River. The cottonmouth, named for the white lining in its mouth, can grow up to four feet in length. 

Before a cottonmouth strikes, it’ll coil itself and open its mouth, allowing you to back away before getting bit. You’ll often hear it hissing, another unmistakable warning signal.

Should you get bit, seek immediate medical attention. While rarely leading to death, the bite will cause significant discomfort, burning, and swelling. 

Cotton mouth snake with mouth open to bite.
Beware of the cottonmouth snake that lurks around the Mississippi River.

Bull Sharks

Sharks, one of the most dangerous water creatures, aren’t often found in bodies of fresh water like the Mississippi River. But occasional bull shark sightings have been reported in the river between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Louis, Missouri. 

A species can adapt over time to living in unconventional settings. Such seems to be the case with this usual saltwater dweller. 

It’s unlikely you’ll encounter a bull shark in the Mississippi River. However, it’s good to know this creature can pose an occasional danger. 


Considered dangerous creatures wherever they roam, humans have left their mark along the Mississippi River. Over the past 100 years, increased agriculture along the river’s path has led to farm runoff landing in the once-pristine water. Unfortunately, mercury, lead, and other toxic chemicals have been found in tests of the water from the river. 

In addition, recreation activities also contribute to debris left behind by humans like plastic bottles, food wrappers, and cigarette butts. 

Fortunately, increased efforts from citizen and government groups along the river’s 10-state path have led to improvements in water quality.

Pro Tip: Humans can be a dangerous creature for nature, which is Why RVers Must Leave No Trace.

The Mississippi River Does Have Some Dangerous Creatures

While there are some dangerous creatures to be aware of when visiting sections of the Mississippi River, most are avoidable. Additionally, there are some beautiful areas to explore and enjoy across the ten states the river touches. 

As with most places, being aware while taking in the scenery will keep you safe and free from harmful encounters.

Have you come across any of these dangerous creatures? Tell us about your experience!

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