Largest Animals Through the Ages
How to find the Largest Animals?
There are many ways to do this. What most people do is break it down into the largest land animal and largest aquatic animal. But this fails to answer questions like what's the biggest reptile, mammal, carnivore bird and others. I will be answering all those questions today by listing the largest animals of many different categories.
The first group I will start with are the true land giants of all time. The sauropods, characterized by their large size and long necks. There are truly three ways to divide this, tallest, longest and heaviest. coincidentally the longest is also the heaviest. Amphicoelias is the largest known sauropod ever. Known from partial skeletal remains, this massive dinosaur was 40 - 60 meters (130 to 200 feet) in length. It tipped the scales at 135 tons. Nothing other than a blue whale has ever been close to this size and even then this dinosaur was twice as long, just not as heavy. This massive sauropod has redefined our understandings and beliefs about how big animals can get.
As far as height goes, Sauroposeidon is the official record holder with a staggering height of around 60ft (18 meters)! A dinosaur this large had few natural enemies other than others of its species and packs of Saurophaganax. Another species, Breviparopus, may have been even taller, but this species is only known from a set of fossilized tracks, so there has been no conclusive size.
Of the Stegosaurs, the largest is no surprise. Stegosaurus, the most iconic of the group and the one the group was named for, grew to over 30 ft long. It weighed between 5 and 6 tons. This animal is most famous for the double row of plates on it's back as well as the spiked tail it used for defense. Stegosaurus was not a fast animal due to its size and was therefore dependent on its spiked tail for defense.
The hadrosaurs, or duck bills, were the sheep of the cretaceous period. They were herd animals, not very intelligent or fast, and very VERY noisy. Some of these animals grew to immense sizes. On average they were at least 30-40 ft long. A few were much bigger. Shantungosaurus was a true titan, not just with the hadrosaurs but with dinosaurs in general. At around 50 ft long and 17 tons, Shantungosaurus was the size of a medium sized sauropod. It would have used its size as a defense against predators like Tarbosaurus.
Titanoceratops is the heaviest known certapsian. Triceratops was the longest. Both of these were about the size of elephants. In the creatacious world, size and ornementation really mattered. Both of these attributes are displayed prominently in Titanoceratops and Triceratops. These attributes helped deter large predators like T-rex and Daspletosaurus. They also helped in mating rituals and distinguishing between species. While the horns were definently for defense, the frills were actually quite fragile. Regardless, these creatures were formidable in any regard.
There have more disputes and discoveries as to the largest theropod than any other group. For almost 100 years Tyrannosaurus was believed to be the largest. Recent discoveries of Gigonatosaurus and Carcharadontosaurus in the 90's and new found evidence regarding the size of Spinosaurus ended the reign of Tyrannosaurus. Spinosaurus was the longest theropod known, at up to 60 feet in length. The discovery of Tyrannosaurus specimen UCMP 137538 showed that Tyrannosaurus got much larger than previously thought. This specimen reach a length of just over 50 ft! While still not as long as Spinosaurus, it was much more muscular and possibly heavier. The weight range for Spinosaurus ranges 7 - 20 tons. Most likely, due to its lifestyle and structure it was on the lighter side of that, proabably around 13 tons. Tyrannosaurus on the other hand, had a weight range between 8 and 16.3 tons, and could have realistically reached that upper range.
The larges of the raptors is indesputably Utahraptor. Many said the the movie Jurassic Park showed their raptors as too large. And while they were portraying velociraptors, which are much smaller, their raptors were actually smaller than Utahraptor. There is still some dispute as to how large it could get. Some estimates are up to 36 ft in length. More realistically though is about 23 ft. However, that is still huge and terrifying for a raptor. A pack of these could take down some of the largest dinosaurs. Meeting one today would be quite frightful and no doubt deadly. These quick carnivores no doubt dominated there world.
Andrewsarchus was the largest carnivorous animal ever, standing 6 feet at the shoulder and being 16 feet long. Like a giant wolf, this creature used its crushing jaws to eat anything, including turtles. Its closet living relatives are whales and hooved animals. Very little though is truly known of this animal, as our only fossils are the top of a skull. This skull was almost 3 feet long.Close second was the giant short faced bear. This was the largest bear ever, 5 feet tall at the shoulder. This species lived in what is now alaska.
Today, Alaska is home to the worlds largest land carnivore, the Alaskan brown, or Kodiak, bear. This bear weighs up to 3000 pounds and easily stands 10 feet tall. This is definently not an animal you want to run into. Known to live only on Kodiak island, hence the name, these bears are actually quite docile and will not attack humans unless they feel threatened or are in an unusual situation. Generally these bears will eat berries and Salmon and can often be observed at streams and rivers fishing.
Of the terrestrial mammals, the largest ever was Indricotherium. Also known as Paraceratherium and Baluchitherium, this massive mammal was the size of a small sauropod, was 18 feet tall at the shoulder, 30 tons and had a 4 foot long skull. In the picture you can see how it sized up against and african elephant and a man. This large herbivore would graze on leaves giraffes only dreamed of eating. The only animals that could pose a threat to an adult Indricotherium were other Indricotherium. This animal lived in what is now Pakistan and is most closely related to Rhinos.
Today, African Elephants are the largest land animals, standing 13 feet tall at shoulder. They can weigh up to about 7 tons, effectively dwarfing all other living land animals. They are very intelligent and live in herds dominated by a matriarch. They are currently threatened, being hunted for their ivory tusks. Despite their size, they are not the largest of their family, many mammoths and mastadons got larger than them. Deinotherium, the middle animal in the picture, is just one example.
Of the crocodilians, the largest is a tie between two prehistoric crocodiles. Sarcosuchus in the south and Deinosuchus in the north. Both of these crocodiles grew to massive lenghths of about 40 ft, and 8 tons. Both species ate large animals, including dinosaurs. There is much dispute as to which exactly was the larger of the two. Deinosuchus looked more like the standard crocodile whereas Sarcosuchus looked more like a modern Gharial. Sarcosuchus has been found in what is now Sahara Africa. Deinosuchus lived in what is now North America.
Today the largest crocodile is the Saltwater Crocodile. This crocodile ranges from southern Indonesia to Australia. This species averages 17 ft in length but can regularly reach 23 ft. These crocodiles get their name do to the fact that they are frequently found miles out at see or swimming between islands. These crocodiles can be quite aggressive. They were the star attraction for the Australia zoo as well as the show "Crocodile Hunter", where Steve Irwin frequently handled them.
Megalania is the largest lizard to have ever lived, reaching lengths between 23 and 26 ft long. This titan lived between 2 million and 40,000 years ago. Ancient aboriginees battled this beast in Australia, where it lived preying on giant marsupials like Diprotodon. This lizard was venomous and would most likely have ambushed prey before springing out and delivering the fatal bite.
Today the Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard, reaching lengths of 10 feet. These lizards live in the lower Philipine Islands and hunt deer, pigs, smaller dragons, and even large water buffalo and humans. Many people believe that they are poisonous but actually they only have deadly bacteria that, once you are bitten, slowly kills you, taking about 3 days.
At the end of the Cretaceous period, the largest snake ever emerged. Titanoboa was a massive snake measuring between 40 and 50 ft in length. This snake was as large as a bus and ate equally large animals. Found in Columbia in 2009, this snake is a nightmare for all ophidiaphobes, or snake fearers. This snake weighed just over a ton, and was truly a giant.
Today, the largest snake in the world can go two ways. The longest snake in the world is the Reticulated Python, which regularly can grow to over 30 feet in length. This snake is native to south eastern asia. The heaviest snake in the world is the green anaconda, which weighs in at about 250 pounds, and lives in South America.
During the Cretaceous period, a giant sea turtle called Archelon swam in the oceans. This turtle was 13 feet long and 16 ft wide. Weighing two tons Archelon easily dwarfed all modern turtles. Despite its large size, Archelon still fell prey to many marine predators such as Tylosaurus and Kronosaurus. This large turtle preyed on squid and jellyfish. Unlike modern sea turtles, they had leathery, not hard, shells. They also had wider flippers.
Today the Leatherback Sea turtle is the largest in the world. These animals reach about 7 feet in length and weigh close to a ton. These sea turtles also eat sqiud and jellyfish and can be found around the world. The can live up to 45 years in the wild, and can dive to depths of 4,200 feet. This species is rapidly declining and becoming endangered.
Over the course of history there have been some very, VERY big birds. And not just the one on Sesame Street. After the extinction of the dinosaurs there many species of birds taller than six feet. Many of these birds were hunters, chasing down there prey, which was usually small to medium sized animals. How ever, the true giants were foragers and quite slow. #1 is the Elephant bird, standing at least 10 ft tall, and weighing 1000 pounds, this giant of Madagascar went extinct in the early 1700's. This monsters eggs were massive and considered a delicacy. It was in the ratite family, related to modern Ostriches.
# 2 was the Moa of New Zealand. This bird was only slightly smaller than the elephant bird, averaging heights of 9 ft, but some getting to 13 feet tall! However it was more lightly built than the Elephant Bird. The Giant Moa was hunted to extinction in 1773. Moas were renowned as being very fast, running from danger.
Today the largest bird is the Ostrich, being 7-9 ft tall. These birds can run 40 mph and can be very territorial and aggressive. Urban legend says Ostriches put their head in the ground, but in fact the just hold it low, to try to avoid being seen.
The largest whale ever is the blue whale. This truly massive creature can get 100 feet long and weigh 210 tons. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant. Their hearts, as much as an automobile.These whales are baleen whales, feeding off of krill. These whales are currently endangered. These animals live an average of 80-90 years. Blue Whales will "sing" as a form of communication.
Of the toothed whales, the Sperm Whale is the largest. Reaching 60-70 feet long and 45 tons. Sperm Whales have the largest brains of any animal to have ever lived. These massive hunters frequently dive to great depths in search of their favorite meal, the Giant Squid. The use sonar blast to stun their prey before moving in for the kill. These animals eat about 1 ton of food a day!
The largest shark ever was so large it would have given Jaws nightmares. Megalodon was between 50 and 70 feet long, with jaws that could swallow a human whole. A relative cousin to the modern Carcharadon Carcharius (Great White), Carcharadon Megalodon was like an upgraded version, arguably the most lethal ocean predator of all time. There speculation that Megalodon could still be alive, as outlined in Steve Alten's "Meg" book series. Many believe this carnivore could be lurking deep in the Mariana's trench. All we have of Megalodon is its teeth, as its cartligenous skeleton cannot be fossilized. Recent finds show that Megalodon lived a lot more recently than previously thought.
Today the largest shark is the Whale Shark, reaching lengths between 30 and 40 feet. These gentle giants feed off of krill and can be found world wide. They are easily identified by their size, shape and coloration.
Leedsichthys was the largest fish ever. This massive titan grew up to 90 feet in length. Despite its massive size it was extremely docile and ate only plankton. It had 40,000 teeth which it used to filter the water for food. These giants lived in large schools that would have made quite a sight swimming through the ocean. While it was the largest animal in the ocean, it wasn't by much with the large predator Liopleurodon right behind. These fish had virtually no defense against attack.
Today the largest fish in the world is the Mola mola or Ocean Sunfish. These fish can grow up to 10 feet long and 16 feet in height. They weigh in at about 5,000 pounds, being the largest living bony fish in the world. These funny looking fish are clumsy swimmers and become infested with parasites. They will breach the surface up to 10 ft and splash down again in an attempt to rid themselves of the parasites. They also invite other fish and birds to come and feast on them. These fish can be found world wide and live for about 10 years.
Today, the largest marine reptile is the Leatherback sea turtle. But the largest ever, also being the largest ever marine predator, was Liopleurodon. This gigantic hunter grew to be 82 feet in length. Its skull alone was ten feet long filled with teeth up to 16 inches in length. There was nothing that could take on this monster other than others of its own kind. Liopleurodon could have propelled itself quite fast using its four flippers and would have hunted anything it could catch.
Today, there are no true flying reptiles. But in prehistoric times there were. Quetzalcoatlus was a massive avian reptile. It was the size of small plane, with a 40 ft wingspan. Despite this massive size, it weighed only about 220 pounds. This massive creature lived at the end of the Cretaceous period. Not much is known of its diet, but many believe that it scavenged the carrion of dead dinosaurs, much like the vultures of today.
The largest primate ever was Gigantophitecus. This massive ape stood an astounding 9-10 feet tall and weighed 1200 pounds. This ape was a gentle giant, living in what is now China and ate mostly bamboo and other plant life. This creature is known from a single mandible and is thought to have gone extinct thousands of years ago. How ever, repeated sightings of giant apes like bigfoot, sasquatch, yeti, yeren, yowie and alma have led many to believe that it may still be alive and well today and just elusive, hiding from the world.
Today the largest primate it the gorilla, with the eastern lowland gorilla being the largest sub-species. Gorillas live only in africa and are quite intelligent and gentle. For many years they were though to be fierce monsters until studies showed otherwise. They live in family groups usually dominated by a silverback male.