Sep 28

We’ve already shown that the natural world can be loud, colourful and smelly. It can also be gigantic. Here’s ARKive’s top ten nature’s giants. And we’re starting off pretty big… 

Giant sequoia 

Giant sequoia photo

Giant sequoia

Meet the worlds largest tree, the giant sequoia. Arguably the largest living organism on earth, the giant sequoia can measure 11 metres across and 95 metres high. The oldest individuals are over 3000 years old – this means that they’ve been around since the Iron Age. 

Blue whale

Blue whale photo

Blue whale

The biggest living animal, the blue whale weighs in at 100 to 120 tonnes. That’s as many as 20 African elephants put together. The blue whale could only have evolved in water – its bones simply would not be strong enough to hold such mass on land. At nearly 30 metres long, with a heart the size of a small car and veins big enough for a human to swim down, the blue whale is one remarkable giant, especially if you consider it survives on tiny krill (but in bulk: it can eat up to 40 million krill a day).   

Whale shark

Whale shark, mouth detail whilst feeding

Whale shark feeding

The whale shark is the largest fish on earth, growing up to 12 metres long. Whale sharks filter feed, surviving on plankton and small fish. However, if you were to look into a whale sharks mouth you’d see about 300 tiny teeth – the function of these is still not known. 

African elephant  

Male African elephants walking

Male African elephants walking

Weighing in at 6 tonnes, the African elephant holds the title of heaviest land animal. Feeding on plants with little nutritional value, the elephant will eat for 18 hours a day to sustain its enormous bulk. 

Leatherback turtle

Male leatherback turtle in open ocean

Male leatherback turtle in open ocean

Leatherback turtles are the largest and most widely distributed marine turtles. They are able to dive to enormous depths of more than 1000 metres in search of jellyfish and other soft-bodied prey. 

Galapagos giant tortoise

Old male Duncan Island tortoise in typical habitat

Male Duncan Island tortoise

The Galapagos giant tortoises are not only huge, with shells measuring over a metre across, but they are also the longest living vertebrate on earth, able to survive for over 150 years. The size and slow nature of the giant tortoises means that they were easy targets for hunters, and three out of the eleven species have already gone extinct. 


Eastern lowland gorilla silverback, portrait

Eastern lowland gorilla silverback

The biggest, and one of the rarest, of the apes; the gorilla hasn’t had the best reputation in the past. But depictions like King Kong could not be further from the truth. These gentle giants are strictly herbivorous, and live in stable, family groups. 


Two males and a female Somali ostrich ssp. molybdophanes

Two males and a female Somali ostrich

The ostrich is the largest and heaviest living bird. Its bulk may mean the sky is off limits, but the flightless ostrich is still able to run at 50 kilometres per hour for 30 minutes or more. It has huge eyes; at 5 centimetres across they are the largest eye of any land animal and are roughly the same size as the ostrich’s small brain.

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragon feeding on a Timor deer

Komodo dragon feeding on a Timor deer

The largest lizard in the world, the komodo dragon at first glance appears to be a relict from the dinosaur age. You’d not want to enter this dragons den: the komodo is famed for its predatory methods, using its powerful jaws and venom to bring down prey as large as water buffalo.

Chinese giant salamander

Chinese giant salamander on leaves

Chinese giant salamander on leaves

The worlds largest amphibian, the Chinese giant salamander is massive – any salamander growing up to nearly 2 metres is truly a sight to behold. In China, they are known as the ‘baby fish’ as they can sound like a crying infant when distressed. They are long lived, with one captive individual surviving for 52 years.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher

  • Carly (September 28th, 2011 at 11:36 am):

    Giant Sequoia.