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Watch Out! That Wild Animal Might Be Rabid!

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The word rabid often makes people think of an animal that is extremely violent, crazy, and maybe even foaming at the mouth. But not all animals infected with the rabies disease fit that description. Nevertheless, it is important to avoid animals that have rabies so that you don't get infected. So which wild animals are likely to carry rabies? This science fair project will help you discover the answer!


Areas of Science
Time Required
Short (2-5 days)
Material Availability
This science fair project requires the use of a computer with Internet access.
Very Low (under $20)
No issues

Sandra Slutz, PhD, Science Buddies


Determine which wild animals are most likely to be infected with rabies and whether the answer changes in different parts of the United States.


Watch out for animals that are behaving strangely—they might have rabies! What is rabies anyway? It's a disease caused by a virus, the smallest type of germ, that attacks the nervous system of mammals. The nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and all the nerves in an animal's body, controls the movements and actions of an animal. When the rabies virus attacks an animal's nervous system, it damages it and changes the animal's behavior. Sometimes the animal becomes violent, sometimes it becomes paralyzed, and sometimes it just acts strangely. For example, a rabid (which means infected with rabies) raccoon might be active during the daytime, which would be odd since raccoons are normally active at night. If left untreated, rabies will eventually cause so much damage to the nervous system that the animal dies. However, if the disease is discovered early enough, rabies is treatable, which is why very few humans in the United States die of rabies.

How does a mammal get rabies? Well, rabies is usually spread when bodily fluid from a rabid mammal gets into the body of an uninfected mammal. Some of the virus gets into the healthy mammal's body, then the virus multiplies and travels throughout the nervous system, causing symptoms to appear. When people and domestic animals, like cats, dogs, and farm animals, get rabies it is usually because of a bite from a wild animal. For that reason, it's a good idea to know which wild animals are most likely to carry the rabies virus. Do you think the wild animal most likely to be infected with rabies changes from one region of the United States to another? You can discover the answer to this and other questions by doing this science fair project. You'll use the data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make a map of the United States and color-code each state according to the type of wild animal that is most likely to carry the rabies virus in that state. Once you've made the map, you'll be able to quickly identify patterns in the data.

A bat with brown fur   Close-up photo of the face of a raccoon
Figure 1. Bats (Jeffdelonge, 2005) and raccoons (Darkone, 2005) are two types of wild animals that are more likely to carry the rabies virus.

Terms and Concepts



These resources will provide you with more information about rabies.

This website offers free blank printable maps of the United States.

  • United States Department of the Interior. (2008). Printable Maps. Retrieved June 6, 2008.

Materials and Equipment

Experimental Procedure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathers and stores data about the reported cases of rabies in each state. For this science fair project, you'll analyze their data.

  1. To start this science fair project you'll need to download and save this PDF which has the CDC's state-by-state rabies statistics for the year 2008. Note: you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to open this PDF. If Adobe Acrobat Reader is not already on your computer visit http://get.adobe.com/reader/ to download a free version.
  2. Open the rabies statistics PDF. You'll see that the data is in the form of a table. Each state's data is located on a separate row. The CDC breaks the data down into two categories: domestic animals and wild animals. For this science fair project, focus on the wild animals, as they are the most likely to infect other animals and humans.
  3. Look at the CDC's statistics and record, in a new data table in your lab notebook, which type of wild animal had the most diagnosed cases of rabies in each state in 2008. The types of wild animals they identified with rabies in 2008 are:
    1. Skunks
    2. Foxes
    3. Bats
    4. Raccoons
    5. Rodents/rabbits
    6. Other wild animal
  4. Below is an example of what the data table in your lab notebook should look like:

    State Type of Wild Animal with the Most Diagnosed Cases of Rabies in 2008

  5. Once you have filled in the data table for all 50 states, you're ready to begin analyzing the data.
  6. Assign a color to each of the types of wild animals. For example, red for skunks, blue for foxes, green for bats, and so on. You may choose any colors you wish, just make sure they are easy to tell apart from one another.
  7. Using your crayons or other coloring tools, color in each state on the blank map according to which type of wild animal had the most diagnosed cases of rabies in that state.
    1. For example, if your data table says that bats are the type of wild animal with the most diagnosed cases of rabies in Alabama, then you should color the state of Alabama green (or whatever color you chose to represent bats).
    2. If there is a tie between two different types of wild animals for the most cases of rabies in a state, color the state in stripes, using the colors representing both types of animals.
  8. Once you're done coloring your map, look at it carefully. Do you see any patterns? Are there regions of the United States where specific types of wild animals are more likely to carry the rabies virus?

Explore More!

Interested in the science behind viral outbreaks? Check out Coronavirus.

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Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.


  • Do some areas of the United States have more diagnosed cases of rabies in wild animals than other areas? Use the same procedure as above to find out; this time have your colors represent the total number of rabies cases reported in wild animals. Hint: you'll need to have each color represent a range of numbers; for example, red would be 0-50 cases, orange would be 51-100 cases, and so forth.
  • How frequent are rabies cases in domestic animals in different parts of the United States? To find out, try the Experimental Procedure outlined above with the CDC data for domestic animals.
  • Have the types of wild animals carrying rabies changed over time? Compare the map you made above with one made from 2009 data. You can find 2009 data in this rabies report from the CDC.

Explore More!

Interested in the science behind viral outbreaks? Check out Coronavirus.


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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Watch Out! That Wild Animal Might Be Rabid!" Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/MamBio_p021/mammalian-biology/making-rabies-maps. Accessed 31 Mar. 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). Watch Out! That Wild Animal Might Be Rabid! Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/MamBio_p021/mammalian-biology/making-rabies-maps

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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