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The Most Dangerous Creatures in Chesapeake Bay

Visiting the Chesapeake Bay can be an exciting adventure for families, solo travelers, and just about any traveler. Many small towns line the shores of the largest estuary in the United States.

With 11,684 miles of total shoreline, there’s plenty to see and do in and around the bay. However, if you’re not careful, you could run into one of the dangerous creatures during your Chesapeake Bay adventures. 

So what creatures should you be looking for in and around the Chesapeake Bay? Let’s take a look.

What Makes a Creature Dangerous?

A dangerous creature is one that can pose harm to a human or pet. It’s important to remember that size has nothing to do with how dangerous an animal could be to a human or pet.

Some of the most dangerous creatures are microscopic and can be very difficult to avoid. 

Where Is Chesapeake Bay?

The Chesapeake Bay is on the east coast of the U.S. Its shoreline borders Maryland and Virginia. However, the bay is also the landing spot for more than 150 major rivers and streams from Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. It’s approximately 200 miles from the northernmost point to the southernmost point, dumping into the Atlantic Ocean.

Visiting the bay is very easy to do whether you’re visiting the southernmost cities like Norfolk and Virginia Beach in Virginia, or even Washington DC or Baltimore. The bay’s location makes it a popular place for locals and tourists to enjoy aquatic activities during the summer months.

Pro Tip: After braving the Chesapeake Bay, camp out in one of these 20 Best Free Camping Spots (on the East Coast).

Sunset at the Chesapeake Bay.
Many creepy creatures lurk in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

The Most Dangerous Animals in Chesapeake Bay

You may feel safe while exploring the Chesapeake Bay area, but there are some animals you’ll want to avoid. An encounter with these animals could ruin your day and result in a trip to the nearest hospital. Let’s get started!

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed hawks are territorial birds, especially when you get anywhere near their nests. It’s important that if you spot one of their nests, you avoid appearing to pose any sort of threat to it. These birds have razor-like talons they will use to defend their nests and territories.

While these birds will likely pose little threat to humans, they can take off with small pets. So if you have a small dog or cat, it’s best to keep it close to you if you see hawks in the area. However, their typical diet consists of small mammals like moles, squirrels, and rabbits.


The Chesapeake Bay area is also home to bobcats. These felines grow to be approximately 24 inches to 40 inches long and can weigh anywhere from 25 lbs to 35 lbs. You’re most likely to see them in forests or other mountain areas, but there have been encounters around swamps and rural areas.

An encounter with a bobcat is typically very rare as they’re generally nocturnal animals. They often do their best to avoid developed areas and interaction with humans. However, with expanding urban developments and homes popping up in more rural locations, they’re struggling to find the solitude they once easily could enjoy.

Black Bear

While they’re not as dangerous as grizzly bears, black bears are still nothing to take lightly. They can grow to be 5 ft to 6 ft long on all fours and be 2 ft to 3 ft tall when walking. They’ll typically weigh anywhere from 90 lbs to 180 lbs for adult females and 130 lbs to 660 lbs for adult males. They typically pack on the pounds by eating berries, roots, nuts, insects, fish, small animals, and garbage.

One of the best ways to avoid a black bear encounter is to clean up after yourself. Dispose of trash in bear-safe trash receptacles and avoid leaving food and other debris unattended. You don’t want to invite bears to investigate what food or litter you have near you.

Despite being one of the smallest bears and having poor hearing and sight, you don’t want to mess with them. Carry bear spray with you when hiking and know how to use it. If you encounter a black bear, give it space and back away slowly. Be ready to defend yourself with rocks, limbs, or your bear spray. They’re typically timid animals that will run away, but if a momma bear feels you’re a threat to her cubs, you better watch it!

North American Porcupine

The Chesapeake Bay area is also home to the uniquely dangerous creature known as the North American Porcupine. This animal grows from 25 inches to 36 inches long, with an additional 8 inches to 10 inches for its tail. This rodent is like a large skunk, but instead of a pungent spray, it’s covered in sharp quills to defend itself.

The good thing about porcupines is that they’re very unlikely to attack you. However, they will do whatever it takes to defend themselves when they feel threatened. Keep your distance and back away if necessary to keep space between you and the porcupine.

They may move at a slower pace than you’d like, but let them go on their way. You’ll avoid a potentially painful mistake.

Close up of red tailed hawk.
Make sure to avoid any red tailed hawk nests when in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Most Dangerous Reptiles and Amphibians in Chesapeake Bay

You don’t have to just worry about animals while in the Chesapeake Bay area. Some reptiles and amphibians can also pose a risk to you. Here are the reptiles and amphibians you should avoid!

Copperhead Snake

There are very few venomous snakes in this part of the country, but the Copperhead snake is one. They typically grow to be about 3 ft long and live in woodlands, along streams, and on rocky hills or fields. You’re less likely to encounter them during cooler weather, as they are reptiles. However, they can be particularly active in the spring when temperatures rise.

They mostly stick to eating mice and birds, but they can be dangerous to humans when they feel threatened. You must watch where you step and put your hands when in the wilderness. Keep track of your pets and avoid letting them run ahead of you as they may not be large enough to alert a copperhead to get out of the area.

Bites to humans are typically not life-threatening but should get checked out by a medical professional. If you can capture a picture of the snake without putting yourself or others at risk, it can help medical professionals ensure you get the proper treatment.


There are three types of jellyfish found in the Chesapeake Bay. These include sea nettles, moon jellyfish, and lion’s mane jellyfish. They have transparent bodies with an umbrella-shaped bell on their tops.

While jellyfish feed on fish, shrimp, and other small creatures, there are frequent encounters with humans. Jellyfish aren’t likely trying to attack humans, but as the jellyfish and humans float through the water, they run into each other. Humans are typically on the losing end of this battle, which results in a painful sting.

If you want to avoid being stung by a jellyfish, you can wear a wetsuit or pantyhose when swimming and be mindful of what’s floating around in the water around you. If you get stung, rinse the area with vinegar and avoid rubbing the area. Try to remove any tentacles from your skin with tweezers and seek medical help if needed.

Bay Shark

While sharks aren’t amphibians or reptiles, we wanted to throw them in as a reminder. There are 12 types of sharks found in the Chesapeake Bay. The sharks very rarely pose any sort of threat to humans, and there have been no recorded shark attacks in the Chesapeake Bay. Despite a serious risk of safety, you should still keep your distance. You don’t want to go down as the first shark attack in the Chesapeake Bay.

Shark swimming
There are 12 types of sharks swimming about in the Chesapeake Bay.

The Most Dangerous Creepy Crawlies in Chesapeake Bay

Some of the most dangerous creatures in the Chesapeake Bay area are incredibly small. It just goes to show that size doesn’t matter when it comes to dangerous creatures. Let’s take a look.

Deer Tick

Deer ticks are tiny. They’re typically less than a quarter of an inch. You’re likely to find them in wooded or wetlands areas. They’re a parasite, so they require a host to survive. They’ll often find their way onto your clothing or skin while hiking.

They can contain Lyme disease, so you must wear a protective bug spray and dress appropriately while hiking. When you’re finished hiking, take the time to thoroughly search you and your fellow hikers for any ticks. Check behind legs, underarms, and in private places.

Black Widow Spider

The black widow spider is the only poisonous spider in the Chesapeake Bay area. They primarily live in dark, moist places and can be found in forest areas, rocks, sheds, and woodpiles. Their bites aren’t initially painful. Most victims don’t even notice them at first, but after several hours, the pain intensifies.

If you’re experiencing redness at the site of the bite, a headache, sweating, vomiting, chest pains, and difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately. Try to remain calm and remember that a black widow bite is very treatable despite what you may have heard. Wash the area with soap and warm water before seeking medical attention.

Hornets & Wasps

Like much of the country, hornets or wasps can pose a risk while you’re exploring in the Chesapeake Bay area. Stings from wasps and hornets can be very painful and will likely be something you’ll want to avoid, especially if you have a severe allergy.

As hard as it can be, you’ll want to move away slowly if you see a hornet or wasp near you. Do not panic, flap your arms, or begin swatting at them. You will likely do nothing more than agitate them, which will make them more aggressive and more likely to sting you.

Pro Tip: Incase you have a run in with one of the many creatures in the Chesapeake Bay, make sure you pack everything on our ultimate First Aid Checklist You Need For Camping.

Algal Blooms in Chesapeake Bay
If you see algal blooms in the Chesapeake, avoid swimming!

Watch Out for Algal Blooms

Algal blooms, or red tides, are a major concern for many in the Chesapeake Bay. These blooms can cause oxygen depletion in the water, which is very harmful to the fish and other wildlife that call it home. However, these harmful bacteria can also be very harmful to humans.

It’s crucial that you are mindful of algal blooms and avoid swimming or entering waters where they are in high concentrations. Many popular swimming locations around the bay will close the water to swimming and discourage people from entering it. 

Are There Any Protected Species in the Chesapeake Bay?

The bay is home to a handful of species on the federal endangered species list. These include the Atlantic Sturgeon, the Shortnose Sturgeon, Shenandoah Salamander, Maryland Darter, Virginia Big-Eared Bat, and the Dwarf Wedge Mussel.

Local officials and the government are working to protect these creatures so their species can survive. The hope is that these species will, much like the Bald Eagle, recover enough to get removed from the endangered species list.

Be Careful in the Chesapeake Bay

If you’re visiting the Chesapeake Bay area, you’re in for a treat. If you take a few common-sense measures and leave creatures alone, they’re likely to pose very little risk. However, issues do happen, and you must know how to respond and take steps to fix the situation. 

Have you ever encountered any of the dangerous creatures we’ve discussed today? Tell us your experience in the comments!

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