Our planet is home to over eight million different species of animals and plants. Some grow to enormous sizes and can therefore be called ‘megafauna’. Scientists aren’t sure why some creatures grow so big. Perhaps being super-sized helps an animal digest vast quantities of low-energy plant food? Or maybe super-sizing can help animals access the best food: the giraffe’s long neck helps it get to the leaves on treetops, which other animals can’t reach. Here’s our chosen list of giant animals alive today. Which are your favourite giants?
Blue whales are mammals. They’re the largest animals that have ever lived. They dwarf the largest known ancient land mammal, Paraceratherium (16 tonnes), as well as the biggest dinosaurs. Even the babies are giants – blue whale calves can weigh up to 2.5 tonnes at birth and gain up to 90 kilograms a day in their first year. They are also the loudest animal on the planet. Their rumbling noises, which can be up to 188 decibels, can be heard by other whales 1,000 miles away.
Vital statistics: Blue whales grow up to 29 metres long and weigh up to 190 tonnes.
Favourite food: It eats over 1,000 kilograms of tiny marine animals every day.
Where can I see it?: The Natural History Museum, London, has a life-sized model. See www.nhm.ac.uk
Scientists know very little about the mysterious ‘giant squid’ and ‘colossal squid’, which live in the darkest depths of the ocean. But what is known is that they have the largest eye of all animals, measuring about 25 centimetres (the size of a dinner plate). They can also grab prey 10 metres away with their two feeding tentacles.
Vital statistics: Both species can grow to over 12 metres long.
Favourite food: Fish and other squid.
Where can I see it?: The Natural History Museum. London’s giant squid specimen, ‘Archie’, is over 8 metres long. Free tours are available (only children aged over 8).
The Japanese giant spider crab is not a spider – it has ten legs not eight. It has an external skeleton, commonly known as its shell, and as its body grows inside, it also grows a new covering. It sheds its old shell and the new covering pumps in sea water before it hardens to become another shell. This leaves it room to grow some more. It is very good at creating a camouflage layer by covering itself with other marine animals and sponges.
Vital statistics: Its width from claw to claw reaches up to 4 metres across. This Pacific Ocean-dwelling crab can live for up to 100 years.
Favourite food: Marine plants and animals.
Where can I see it?: Manchester Museum and the Natural History Museum at Tring.
The Galápagos Islands’ famous giant tortoises were once hunted by humans for food. Because they can live for up to a year without food or water, sailors and whalers would take them on board their ships to provide a source of fresh meat. As a result of this, and loss of habitat, four species have become extinct. The fourth to become extinct was when ‘Lonesome George’ died in Ecuador in 2012.
Vital statistics: It weighs up to 250 kilograms and lives to over 100 years old.
Favourite food: Mostly plants.
Giraffes live in Africa on the grasslands. Thousands of giraffes still live in the wild, although they’ve lost some of their habitat. They give birth standing up, so the calf starts its life by dropping almost 2 metres to the ground! Giraffes fight for leadership by using their heads and long necks as powerful sledgehammers, which can cause terrible injuries.
Vital statistics: The tallest land animal in the world, it grows up to 6 metres high. Its whopping tongue is 53 centimetres long.
Favourite food: Acacia leaves.
The ‘lion’s mane’ jellyfish is the world’s largest jellyfish, with poisonous stingers which stun its prey. Other, smaller tentacles guide the stunned food into its mouth, which is tucked away under its bell-shaped body. The lion’s mane jellyfish looks very beautiful underwater as it emits its own light.
Vital statistics: It has eight groups of over 60 stinging tentacles, over 35 metres long. These lurk under its main body, which can reach up to 2 metres wide.
Favourite food: Plankton, fish, small crustaceans and other jellyfish.
Where can I see it?: Often found swimming around Britain’s coasts – don’t touch it!
The largest living land animal, elephants live in groups headed by an older female. They have been intensively hunted for their ivory tusks, which has caused them to become critically endangered. The trunk has 40,000 muscles wrapped around the two ‘nose’ passages. Newborn elephants use their mouths to drink their mother’s milk and are born with a shortish trunk that stretches after a while.
Vital statistics: Male ‘bull’ elephants can stand over 3 metres high, and weigh over 6 tonnes.
Favourite food: A bull elephant eats roughly 270 kilograms of plant matter every day.
Visit these sites to discover more about these giants of nature
Antarctic Blue Whale
Lion’s mane jellyfish
African bush elephants
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Written by Sylvia Morris