The animal kingdom is full of relative giants, from bugs larger than your cellphone to jellyfish that can sting you from almost 100 feet away, but none are as awesome as the true giants of land and sea. Of the five biggest animals on earth, all are mammals, four are herbivores, one is marine and all are truly imposing to behold.
The majority of great whales are of the baleen variety, meaning they don't have teeth but use a grill-like mechanism (the baleen) to filter food. The only great whale to have teeth is the sperm whale. The 200-ton blue whale is the largest baleen whale, followed by the 80-ton right whale, 75-ton fin whale, 60-ton bowhead whale and 45-ton sperm whale. In fact, the nine heaviest animals in the world are members of the great whale family. Not only is the blue whale the largest animal on the planet, it’s also believed to be the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth, bigger even than the T-rex and diplodocus. Even blue whale babies are huge, weighing 3 tons at birth and gaining 200 pounds every day for the first year of their lives.
Elephants, specifically African bush elephants, are the second largest animals in the world and the largest on land. The biggest elephant ever recorded weighed 10 tons and stood 4 meters at the shoulder. That’s pretty big, but only 5 percent of the weight of a blue whale and still dwarfed by the Bryde's whale -- the ninth largest baleen variety. African elephant babies are big too and it takes 23 months for mom to carry one from conception to birth.
A baby hippo weighs around 1,000 pounds—that’s half a ton, or as much as a pickup truck—and a fully grown hippo can weigh up to 4 tons. The name hippopotamus translates to “river horse,” and these beasts live up to their name, spending up to 18 hours a day submerged or semi-submerged. Their eyes and ears are positioned high on their heads, which, combined with their height of up to 14 feet, means they can often stand in the deep part of a river and still breathe.
Five rhinoceros species exist: two in Africa and three in Asia. The African white rhino is the largest, weighing up to 2.5 tons when fully grown. Despite the name, the white rhino is a dark gray color. It is believed that the term “white” is a corruption of the original Boer description of this enormous beast, which they called the “wijde,” Dutch for “wide"—a description of the creature's mouth.
The polar bear is the largest carnivore in the world. Unlike with the elephant, rhino and hippo, much of its bulk is in the form of fat, which it needs to withstand the intense cold of its natural habitat. Despite their size and weight—adults weigh up to 1,500 pounds—polar bears are excellent swimmers and have been observed as far as 60 miles from the shore.
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Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.