Largest Animals in the World — And Where to Find Them
Cute, cuddly animals are hard for just about anyone to resist, but what about those animals that are simply massive? Here, we’ve rounded up some of the largest animals on Earth that may not be for the faint of heart.
Our beastly honorees cover every category: the largest mammals on the planet; the heaviest animals that roam the plains and prairies, jungles and swamps; the longest reptiles ever viewed in the wild; and the biggest, fiercest predators of the sea.
Do you have what it takes to see these big, bad beasts of the wild up close?
Great White Shark
Length: 15 feet to 20-plus feet
Weight: 5,000 pounds or more
Geographic Range: Highest concentrations in the United States (Northeast and California), South Africa, Japan, Oceania, Chile, and the Mediterranean including Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus
*Unless otherwise noted, all measurements are sourced from National Geographic.
Great White Shark Story
The great white shark is an apex predator with a reputation for ferociousness. (We dare you to think of this shark without the “Jaws” theme and visions of squirting blood running through your head.)
But while there is much to be feared when it comes to this intimidating creature, it is largely misunderstood. The great white doesn't actually want to eat humans; often, it simply confuses a person for a seal. And though it accounts for up to one-third to one-half of all shark attacks, this doesn’t amount to much. Only 234 nonfatal and 80 fatal attacks involving great white sharks have ever been reported.
Where to Encounter Great White Shark
Considering the shark's massive size and 300 razor-sharp teeth, though, such assurances might come as cold comfort. Practically every coastal area where there are oceans has played host to the great white. And if you're really feeling gutsy, you can go cage-diving in places like Gansbaai, South Africa.
(Fun fact: This is one of the rare animal species where females are larger than males.)
Length: 20 to 30 feet
Weight: Up to 550 pounds
Geographic Range: Throughout tropical South America, east of the Andes, mainly in the Amazon and Orinoco basins and in the Guianas
Green Anaconda Story
Like the great white, this beast has a bad rap that's somewhat unearned. Despite starring in a number of horror films, the largest living snake in the world is actually nonvenomous. And while it is undoubtedly large, it’s not quite as monstrous as it’s made out to be.
According to legend, anacondas can get as long as 40 feet, but in reality, 30 feet is about as big as they get. (Which, we admit, is still pretty terrifyingly big...)
Where to Encounter Green Anaconda
While some reports have documented these anacondas in the Everglades, they are typically found in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
They submerge themselves in marshes, swamps and rivers, only leaving their eyes and nostrils above the water to scope for prey. So, finding one requires some amount of effort.
Head & body: 11 to 13.75 feet
Tail: 20 to 27.5 inches
Weight: 3,200 to 8,000 pounds
Geographic Range: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda
White Rhinoceros Story
The northern white rhino no longer exists in the wild, and only small numbers of the southern white rhino can be found in southern Africa, landing the animal on the endangered species list.
The rhino’s horn, which is mistakenly believed to cure disease, fetches a lofty sum on the black market. African poachers have even taken to infiltrating protected refuges to get their hands on one.
Where to Encounter White Rhinoceros
Still, your best chance to see this magnificent and social animal remains a refuge, including the Rhino Sanctuary at Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park in South Africa. Just don’t go looking for a rhino that’s actually, well, white. Despite its name, this rhino is gray.
The misnomer may be due to a mistranslation of the Afrikaans word “wyd,” meaning “wide.”
Head & body: 9.5 to 14 feet
Tail: 13.75 to 19.75 inches
Weight: 3,000 to 8,000 pounds
Geographic Range: East Africa, south of the Sahara
Remarkably, despite tipping the scales at up to 4 tons, hippos can sprint as fast as 19 mph. When not grazing, they can be found mating, giving birth and cooling off from the sweltering sun in pools of water.
These are not creatures to be taken lightly. They are feared by every other beast in their habitat, perhaps because their crushing jaws could split any number of enemies in two.
Where to Encounter Hippopotamus
Their biggest enemies, however, are humans: Up to 95 percent of the hippo population has been eliminated from the Democratic Republic of Congo due to poaching and human encroachment.
You can still find them throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, their native home, though.
Length: 17 feet
Weight: 1,000 pounds
Geographic Range: Coastal brackish mangrove swamps and river deltas
Saltwater Crocodile Story
The largest living reptile is no joke — it ambushes its prey, drowns it and then devours it whole. Humans, too, should be on alert. During World War II, members of the Imperial Army who retreated to mangrove swamps near Ramree Island in Myanmar were killed en masse by saltwater crocodiles. Of 1,000 soldiers, it’s estimated only 20 survived. More recently, attacks by the crocs have been reported on the Solomon Islands.
Humans seem to be fooled by this animal’s lumbering crawl, assuming it isn’t fleet enough to pose a threat. But nothing could be further from the truth. During explosive bursts, saltwater crocodiles can swim at speeds of up to 18 mph. On land, they exhibit equally impressive reflexes that catch their prey by surprise.
Where to Encounter Saltwater Crocodile
Dangerous as they are, though, saltwater crocodiles are equally threatened by poachers looking to sell their hard scaly skin, which can be used in everything from remedies to fashion.
Want to stare this impressive animal down in a relatively safe setting? Head to The Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Somersby.
Length: 16 feet
Weight: 500 pounds
Geographic Range: Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile Basin and Madagascar
Nile Crocodile Story
The second-largest reptile is as terrifying as its crocodile cousin.
Impressively, the Nile croc is able to wait out its prey, then hold its catch clamped down between its powerful jaws for long periods of time. This prey can be as large and powerful as a buffalo.
Where to Encounter Nile Crocodile
If you’re keen to see this holdover from the dinosaurs up close and in person, South Africa's Kruger National Park has done wonders to protect the animal and keep its population up, while offering tourists intimate safaris in the heart of the wild.
Height at shoulder: 5 to 6.5 feet
Weight: 1,800 pounds
Geographic Range: Native to North America, from Alaska to New Hampshire
The moose, sometimes referred to as the Eurasian elk, is the largest member of the deer family.
The male is known for his large, open flat antlers that can measure up to 40 pounds — about what a five-year-old child weighs!
Where to Encounter Moose
Where might you cross this magnificent creature? While moose numbers have diminished due to hunting, they can still be found in Alaska, Russia, the Baltic States and Canada, where campers often spot one grazing.
Moose are solitary creatures, so don’t expect to run into a giant herd. And make sure to proceed with caution: While impressive to look at from a distance, moose can be extremely aggressive when you enter their territory, wielding those giant antlers to rather frightening effect.
Head & body: 7.25 to 8 feet
Tail: 3 to 5 inches
Weight: 900 to 1,600 pounds
Geographic Range: Arctic Circle
Polar Bear Story
Images of polar bears dying of starvation while clinging to ice floes have captivated the public’s attention. Indeed, climate change remains a massive threat to the survival of this species. In fact, the polar bear population is expected to decline by 30 percent by 2050 due to melting sea ice.
This is a true shame, as the polar bear is an extraordinary beast. In addition to its impressive size, it’s notable for its ability to smell prey more than a half-mile away and to swim for days at a time.
Where to Encounter Polar Bear
See a polar bear in the wild while you can by heading to Alaska, the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, Greenland, Russia’s Wrangel Island or Churchill in the northern reaches of Canada.
Height: 5 to 8 feet
Weight: 700 pounds
Geographic Range: Alaska, western Canada, and parts of Washington, Montana and Wyoming
Brown Bear Story
The brown bear, often referred to as the grizzly bear in North America, is nearly as large and just as fierce as its polar cousin.
Brown bears are impressive to see in the wild not only because of their imposing size, but also because of their extraordinary behaviors. They’re able to walk on the soles of their feet and pick things up with their claws. They’re also very smart, boasting one of the largest brains found in a carnivore species. They’ve even developed a complex communication system involving scratch marks left on trees.
Where to Encounter Brown Bear
Your best bet to see one is in Alaska, including at Katmai and Denali national parks.
Keep some distance, though, as males can get aggressive.
African Bush Elephant
Height at the shoulder: 8.2 to 13 feet
Weight: 5,000 to 14,000 pounds
Geographic Range: Most African countries
African Bush Elephant Story
Did you know the African bush elephant, also known as the savanna elephant, is the largest land creature on the planet? Well, now you do.
Despite its unparalleled size and strength, poachers have posed an ominous threat to this imposing animal for decades. Its meat has some value, but the real selling point is its ivory tusks, which can fetch hefty sums on the black market.
That’s not the only threat these elephants face: Lions, leopards and hyenas feast on baby African bush elephants. Due to these and other forces, numbers have dwindled from, it’s estimated, as many as 5 million to about 415,000 today.
Where to Encounter African Bush Elephant
The remaining bush elephants can be found scattered throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and southern Africa. They are social creatures that typically travel in herds led by females; adult males, however, tend to travel alone.
There are a great many safari vacations in places like Kenya that allow tourists a chance to meet these huge and intelligent creatures.
Height: 14 to 19 feet
Weight: 1,750 to 2,800 pounds
Geographic Range: Sub-Saharan regions of Africa
While elephants are the largest land animals on the planet, giraffes are the tallest. They’re also among the most fascinating creatures you’re likely to encounter, using their prehensile lips and long tongues (measuring up to 18 inches!) to avoid thorns while munching on the leaves of acacia trees.
Calves are remarkably adaptable, too, often walking within the first hour or two of life.
Where to Encounter Giraffe
The giraffe habitat encompasses the savannas and woodlands of places including Chad, Somalia, Niger and southern Africa. While they’re not currently listed as endangered, there’s talk of the giraffes being defined as such in the coming years. They are often hunted by lions, leopards, hyenas and African wild dogs, and while poaching is less heard of, they are still hunted for their skin, which some cultures believe has medicinal purposes.
Safari-goers are sure to cross giraffes in their natural habitat or even in protected parks when venturing into southern Africa.
Head & body: 8.3 to 12 feet
Tail: 28 to 40 inches
Height: 5.6 to 7.2 feet
Weight: 1,540 to 3,300 pounds
Geographic Range: Forested hills and grassy areas of southern to southeastern Asia
*All measurements are sourced from New World Encyclopedia.
This spectacular beast is known for its curling horns and massive shoulder girth. And impressively, it supports its formidable size despite being an herbivore, grazing only on a wide variety of plants.
Also known as the Indian Bison, the gaur can be found throughout South and Southeast Asia, but its numbers are dwindling. Like many of the animals on this list, it’s fallen prey to human predators and loss of habitat, and has been marked as a threatened species.
Where to Encounter Gaur
If you see one, use caution; in rare cases, the gaur is fatal to humans.
In recent years in Kodaikanal, India, a man tried to flee from a gaur found in his garden, but he was killed by the animal before he could reach safety.
Southern Elephant Seal
Head & body: Up to 20 feet
Weight: Up to 9,000 pounds
Geographic Range: Largest populations on the Falkland Islands, Gough, Marion and Prince Edward islands, New Zealand and South Africa
Southern Elephant Seal Story
The southern elephant seal is the largest carnivore on the planet, supporting its exceptional mass by feasting on squid and fish that it dives down as deep as 3,300 feet to reach.
Elephant seals can stay on land for long periods of time, up to weeks at a time. On land, they create colonies that are often fought over between dominant males.
Where to Encounter Southern Elephant Seal
See these seals sparring in action in Argentina, the south Indian Ocean and the islands in the Pacific.
Northern elephant seals, nearly as large, can be found in California and Baja California.
Height: 7 to 9 feet
Weight: 220 to 350 pounds
Geographic Range: The savannas and Sahel of Africa
The largest bird on the planet also lays the world’s largest eggs, clocking in at a hefty 3.5 pounds.
But what makes the ostrich most impressive is its unrivaled speed. Topping out at 60.6 mph, this is the fastest bird on land and the fastest two-legged animal, period.
The ostrich has to worry about predators such as lions, leopards and cheetah — but given their powerful legs and lightning-fast speed, only a cheetah can successfully chase one down.
Where to Encounter Ostrich
The ostrich can be found in the wild only in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can also see them in captivity in locations around the world, including many zoos.
Just don’t expect to see one take to the sky. Despite its beautiful plumes, the ostrich doesn't fly.
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
Diameter: Up to 8 feet
Tentacle lengths: Up to 120 feet
Geographic Range: Cold waters in the Arctic, northern Atlantic and northern Pacific oceans
*All measurements are sourced from National Aquarium.
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Story
The lion's mane jellyfish is one of the largest creatures you'll find floating in the ocean.
It has 800-plus tentacles that regularly surpass 50 feet in length.
Where to Encounter Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
This jellyfish makes its home in the frigid waters of the northern Atlantic, northern Pacific and Arctic oceans. As the largest jellyfish in the world, it uses its stinging tentacles to feast on smaller jellyfish and fish, typically hovering near the surface to find prey.
Summer and autumn months usually lead these creatures closer to shore, but don't let that frighten you from going into the water. A sting from one is not fatal. At worst, it will cause some redness and irritation.
Length: 23 to 32 feet
Weight: Up to 12,000 pounds
Geographic Range: Predominantly along the coasts of Iceland, Norway, the Valdes Peninsula of Argentina, the Crozet Islands, New Zealand and parts of North America's West Coast, from California to Alaska
Killer Whale Story
The killer whale, or orca, is a toothed whale hailing from the dolphin family. In fact, it is the largest dolphin on earth.
The ultimate apex predator of the deep, it preys on seals, dolphins, whale calves and even adult baleen whales. It is also highly intelligent and social, often traveling with others in a pod or family group.
Where to Encounter Killer Whale
The orca is known to inhabit all of the oceans, but like many of the animals on this list, it faces a viable threat from climate change, pollution and human encroachment.
Still, if you go boating on the wide-open seas off the West Coast of the U.S. or Canada, there’s a decent chance you’ll get to see one of these majestic animals leaping above the waves.
Japanese Spider Crab
Body diameter: Up to 15 inches
Leg span: Up to 15 feet
Geographic Range: Southern coasts of the Japanese island of Honshu, from Tokyo Bay to Kagoshima Prefecture
*All measurements are sourced from Tennessee Aquarium.
Japanese Spider Crab Story
The Japanese spider crab, or giant spider crab, is the largest of all crustaceans of the deep. While it may look like something that could crawl out of a horror movie, don’t be deceived: The giant crustacean is known to be rather gentle and docile.
The Japanese spider crab population has dropped in recent years due to overfishing, as it is regarded as a delicacy in some parts of the world. And demand for the huge crustacean has driven its population down.
Where to Encounter Japanese Spider Crab
Where do you find it? Well, its name is a clue.
The crab dwells in Japanese waters, typically camouflaging itself at the bottom of the sea. If a predator is wily enough to see past the crab's camouflage, it also boasts an impressively hard exoskeleton.
Length: 82 to 105 feet
Weight: 400,000 pounds
Geographic Range: All major ocean basins, except the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean
Blue Whale Story
The blue whale is the largest living organism on the planet, a majestic beast truly breathtaking in size. How does it maintain its epic weight? By feasting on up to 40 million small crustaceans called krill each day.
The whale inhabits all of the oceans and at one time was prolific. Due to whaling, it ended up on the brink of extinction, but its numbers are returning thanks to its protected status in some territories. Today, the blue whale can still be found in every major ocean on the planet.
Where to Encounter Blue Whale
Your best chance of seeing one is at night when it comes to the surface to feed on krill. During the day, it dives to depths as low as 330 feet to eat the crustaceans.
Tourists eager to see blue whales might encounter them on a cruise in the Gulf of Maine or off the coast of Southern California.