The Largest Living Organisms on the Planet

  • What’s the single biggest living thing on Earth? The answer might surprise you.

Some beings on Earth like to live it large — literally. Certain forms of life can reach truly enormous sizes, at least relatively.

But what does an actual list of the largest living creatures on the planet today look like? That’s actually a very good question, since the criteria for size can be a bit arbitrary.

Still, we decided to compile a list of the biggest organisms that are alive today. Some of them you’ll be familiar with, but others might surprise you.

Largest Living Animal

You definitely know this one. The blue whale is not only the heaviest and longest animal today — its also the single largest animal to have ever lived on the planet.

The average blue whale measures anywhere between 70 to 85 feet long, and weighs roughly 230,000 pounds. But that just the average, and we know they can get much bigger than that.

The heaviest recorded weight of a blue whale is a whopping 438,000 pounds. The longest scientifically measured blue whale was 98 feet long, but they could theoretically get a few feet bigger than even that.

Largest Living Land Animal

If we included just the largest living animals, there’d be nothing but whales on this list. So, let’s break it up with the largest and heaviest land animal — the African bush elephant.

These elephants have an average shoulder height of 10.5 feet in males, with females being a decent bit smaller at 8.5 feet. In weight, the males weigh an average of 13,000 pounds, while females weigh about half of that.

The largest reliably measured African bush elephant was a male with a shoulder height of 13 feet. While nobody could get it to step on the scale, its estimated weight was just short of 23,000 pounds.

Compared to blue whales, African bush elephants are complete featherweights, but there’s a good reason for that. Something the size of a blue whale simply couldn’t live on land.

Largest Invertebrate

There’s quite a bit of debate about what the largest invertebrate actually is. But we know for certain that it’s one of two kinds of squid.

The current consensus among biologists is that the colossal squid is the bigger one of the duo. They’ve been confirmed to weigh at least 1,091 pounds, though they could potentially get as heavy as 1,500 pounds while being 33 feet long.

However, those are just estimates, since colossal squids are elusive deep-sea creatures. The other contender for the title of largest invertebrate is the giant squid.

These creatures, at 43 feet in length, are much longer than colossal squids. However, they are also a lot slimmer, weighing only 330 pounds at most.

Longest Animal

Photo: Bernard Dupont, Wikimedia Commons

Size isn’t just about weight, though. Enormous length counts as well, and you can’t get much longer than the siphonophore discovered off the western Australian coast in 2020.

This creature was stretched to a length of 150 feet. To give you a point of reference, that’s a bit longer than a third of a football field — or roughly as long as 257 bananas strung together.

Fun fact, though, siphonophores aren’t a single animal. Instead, they’re clonal colonies consisting of millions of tiny medusoid creatures.

So, they aren’t one animal, but they also kind of are. Even if they’re all alone, they still have countless copies of themselves to keep them company.

Largest Tree

Moving over to the plant kingdom, the biggest single-stem tree of them all is the giant sequoia. But even with these towering behemoths, we run into some classification issues.

If we go simply by heights, the single tallest sequoia in the world is a specimen called Hyperion, located in California. This tree reaches 379 feet up to the skies.

But Hyperion is a skinny little thing as far as sequoias go. The biggest sequoia by trunk volume is called General Sherman, also in California, who has a trunk volume of 52,500 cubic feet.

While General Sherman is only 275 feet tall, it does have a respectable girth of 103 feet at ground level.

Largest Flower

Photo: Aqil F, Wikimedia Commons

The largest individual flower in the world belongs to Rafflesia arnoldii, or the giant padma. Growing in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo, the giant padma’s flower is 3.3 feet in diameter and can weigh 24 pounds.

You wouldn’t want one of these things at home, though. First of all, you’d be hard-pressed to find the space for it. They’re also parasitic, so they wouldn’t grow in a regular flower pot.

But the real reason is that they stink like a pile of rotting corpses to attract pollinating flies.

Heaviest Organism

They say some people can’t see the forest for the trees. But in the case of the heaviest organism on Earth, you might miss the tree for the forest.

Pando is a clonal colony of aspen trees in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. It occupies an area of 108 acres, has about 40,000 trunks — and it’s all connected to one single root system.

Like the siphonophores we mentioned, all the trees that make up Pando are identical clones of each other. In total, Pando’s estimated weight is somewhere around 6,600 tons.

Largest Living Thing

Photo: Alan Rockefeller, Wikimedia Commons

Massive as it is, though, Pando isn’t the largest living being on the planet. That title goes to something seemingly much smaller and humbler — a honey fungus in eastern Oregon.

This ginormous clonal colony of fungus covers an area of 2,384 acres. It’s rhizomorphs — think of it like a root system for fungi — spread out underground and it’s still growing.

The U.S. Forest Service discovered the fungus in 1998 when they came to investigate the death of 112 trees. Inspecting the mushroom growing from the dead trees, they realized they were genetically identical parts of one massive fungal colony.