Longest, Loudest, and Lengthiest Lifespan: 15 Lofty Animal Superlatives

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iStock

While just about every creature in the animal kingdom has some fascinating characteristic, only some can reign supreme when it comes to measurable grandeur. Earning distinction as the fastest, largest, loudest, or longest-living critter on the planet is no mean feat, and those denizens of the land, sea, and sky that have earned these superlatives deserve due recognition!

1. FASTEST ANIMALS

A close-up of a peregrine falcon.
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The cheetah is often credited with this honor, though the swift African cat—which can reach speeds of approximately 75 miles per hour—is only the fastest land animal. In fact, the black marlin, generally considered to be the fastest-swimming fish, beats this rate: It clocks in at about 80 miles per hour. But topping both by a wide margin is the peregrine falcon, the fastest animal known to man, which has been measured to fly as fast as 242 miles per hour.

2. SLOWEST ANIMALS

A sloth hanging onto a branch
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The other side of the equation can be just as impressive. The slowest known flier is the American woodcock, which floats by at only 5 miles per hour. However, that's practically lightning-fast compared to the average speeds of the sloth—the slowest land animal, which skulks about at .15 miles per hour—and the dwarf seahorse—the slowest sea creature with a typical speed of only 5 feet per hour!

3. SMALLEST ANIMALS

And Etruscan shrew blends in with fallen leaves.
Thailand Wildlife, Alamy

Even after distinguishing animals from living creatures like microorganisms, the question of smallest is a complicated one. The tiniest mammal, for instance, could be either the Etruscan Pygmy shrew, which weighs in as lightest in its class at an average of 1.9 grams, or the bumblebee bat, which is slightly heavier (averaging 2 grams) but measures about a quarter of an inch shorter at 1.4 inches head to tail.

Smaller still are the top ranking reptile (the .6-inch-long dwarf gecko), fish (the .31-inch-long Paedocypris progenetica cyprinid fish from Indonesia), and amphibian (the .3-inch-long Paedophryne amauensis frog from Papua New Guinea). The latter is, in fact, the smallest known vertebrate living today.

But towering over (or under, as the case may be) the lot of them is the fairyfly, a parasitic wasp that measures only one 5000th of an inch.

4. LARGEST ANIMALS

A blue whale under the sea
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No contest here. With an average length of almost 85 feet and estimated average weight (no individual has ever been weighed whole) of 210 tons, the blue whale beats any other known species, extant or extinct—and that includes dinosaurs—in the heavyweight championship.

5. LONGEST ANIMALS

A bootlace worm against a black background.
Nature Photographers Ltd, Alamy

While the blue whale may have sheer mass down pat, the record for head-to-tail length belongs to another creature. The bootlace worm, a species of ribbon worm found primarily around the United Kingdom and the European countries neighboring the North Sea, can reach 190 feet in length, yet rarely exceeds a few inches in width.

6. LOUDEST ANIMALS

Two tiger pistol shrimp (Alpheus bellulus) with a wide-barred shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris latifasciata).
Two tiger pistol shrimp (Alpheus bellulus) with a wide-barred shrimpgoby (Amblyeleotris latifasciata).
cbimages, Alamy

The blue whale may hold yet another record when it comes to vocal sound, emitting a holler that reaches 188 decibels (two thirds louder than an average jet engine), but this might not in fact be the loudest noise created organically by a member of the animal kingdom. For this achievement, we look to a creature much smaller than the blue whale: the tiger pistol shrimp, which, by snapping its claw, can produce a sharp click that projects at more than 200 decibels.

7. ANIMALS WITH THE LONGEST LIFESPANS

An immortal jellyfish lit up against a black background.
Images & Stories, Alamy

Turtles and tortoises have a reputation for long, healthy living, and indeed one particular tortoise might be the longest living land animal in known history. Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise kept in India's Alipore Zoo until his death in 2006, was thought to be about 250 years old—that puts his birth in the mid-1700s.

But once more, we find the really big winners hidden beneath the sea. Another impressive individual is Ming, the ocean quahog clam who also died in 2006 (something's fishy about that), at an estimated age of 507 years old.

However, that's still nothing in comparison to its fellow sea dweller, the Antarctic sponge; some of these beings are thought to have been around for 1500 years!

The question gets even more complicated when we consider one of the most fascinating phenomena in the animal kingdom: the "immortality" of the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish. Upon reaching biological maturity, one of these creatures will reconstruct its own molecular makeup to revert back to a state of infancy, reliving its own lifespan once more from the start. The process happens over and over, without any glimmer of organic termination, suggesting that the jellyfish in question is the only known animal that might actually never die.

8. ANIMALS WITH THE SHORTEST LIFESPANS

A mayfly on a leaf
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If those are surreal numbers, imagine the other extreme: an entire life lasting only a day. That's the fate of the mayfly, tragic (and perhaps a little poetic) though it may be.

9. ANIMALS THAT SLEEP THE MOST AND THE LEAST

A koala sleeping on its back on a branch of a tree
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There's already very little common ground between the koala and the shark before you throw sleeping patterns into the equation. The adorable tree-dwelling marsupial snoozes more than just about any other creature, spending 22 hours of any given day dormant.

The shark, on the other hand, is never truly asleep. It simply slows its biological activity for occasional rest. Fellow go-getters include the giraffe and the elephant, which only sleep about four hours a night. The latter can actually take quick power naps while standing upright.

10. ANIMALS WITH THE BEST EYESIGHT

A mantis shrimp on the ocean floor.
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When it comes to basic clarity of vision over long distances, few can beat the bald eagle and its fellow birds of prey, whose eyesight is at least eight times as sharp as a human being's. Owls rank high when it comes to night vision, as do tarsiers, which are diminutive predatory primates with tremendous eyeballs.

But when it comes to command of color, one animal puts the rest to shame: the mantis shrimp, which can see colors that no other creature on Earth can. The human eye has three different types of photoreceptors designed for reading color, all falling under the umbrella term "cones." Whereas a human's cones come in three types—those tuned into red, blue, and green wavelengths—the mantis shrimp has 12 to 16 different photoreceptors. This allows it to see colors we cannot even imagine, although some scientists believe that they still have trouble telling these colors apart in certain situations.

11. ANIMALS WITH THE BEST HEARING

A moth rests on a leaf.
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As the common moth has a reputation for being inscrutably obsessed with bright lights (often to the point of its own demise), you'd guess that the insect's eyesight is not its most sophisticated sense. In fact, the greater wax moth's real claim to fame is its hearing. Though not an exotic critter by anyone's measure (this particular species of moth, also called the honeycomb moth, is found throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia), the greater wax moth manages a rare feat of auditory prowess, catching frequencies at 300 kHz. Their aural capacity is 15 times better than a human's, almost twice as good as a dolphin's, and one-and-a-half times stronger than a bat's hearing.

12. ANIMALS WITH THE BEST SENSE OF SMELL

Two baby elephants greet each other with their trunks.
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We hear stories of lost dogs sniffing their way back home, or polar bears smelling delicious sea lions from a mile away. But the best nose in the animal kingdom is one that often goes unheralded, despite being as obvious a candidate as you'd imagine. It's the elephant's.

The elephant doesn't only have the strongest sense of smell, it has the most sophisticated understanding thereof, bearing 1984 different olfactory receptor genes—twice as many as the average dog or rat has. An elephant's nose is instrumental in not only its foraging habits, but also in reproduction and social interaction. Furthermore, an African elephant can differentiate between predatory human tribes and peaceful ones based on smell alone.

13. MOST POISONOUS AND MOST VENOMOUS ANIMALS

A close-up of a golden poison frog.
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The important difference between poison and venom distinguishes these two top-honored species from one another. Poison is transferred from one organism to another through touch or ingestion, while venom is delivered via a bite or sting—usually an attack by the toxic animal intending to kill its prey or predator.

In the former category, we have the golden poison frog, a species of poison dart frog. The glowing Colombia native is believed to contain enough poison in its body to wipe out 10,000 mice, 15 humans, or two elephants. In the latter category, we have the box jellyfish, whose powerful sting seizes victims instantaneously, assaulting the skin, heart, and nervous system all at once.

14. DEADLIEST ANIMALS

A mosquito on a person in the shadows.
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Neither the most poisonous or venomous animal reigns as the deadliest animal, a superlative that belongs (quite horrifyingly) to the mosquito. The disease-ridden insect is responsible for more human deaths than any other creature, indirectly taking a startling 725,000 lives every year.

15. SMARTEST ANIMALS

Close-up of a chimpanzee's face.
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The distinction of "smartest" when assessing the varied members of the animal kingdom is perhaps the hardest one to make, considering the great deal we have yet to learn about intelligence, both in general and as it applies to particular species. That said, a small handful of mammals consistently top the list.

When discussing the smarts of great apes, the chimpanzee, orangutan, and gorilla tend to alternate between the gold, silver, and bronze positions; still, the chimp is the most consistent top placer, bearing an intellectual makeup that appears closer and closer to that of a human as more studies are conducted. Beyond technical and linguistic sophistication, a chimp is believed to have complex emotionality. Its relationships and sense of self are strikingly familiar.

Of course, the dolphin is the primate's most stalwart contender for the honor of smartest animal. While we have less of an understanding of a dolphin's mental acuity than we do of a chimp's or gorilla's on the whole, we have come to recognize remarkable nuance in dolphin language, social relationships, and even ingenuity and creativity.

20 Freaky Facts About the Giant Squid

Canadian Illustrated News, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Canadian Illustrated News, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Last week, scientists aboard a NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research ship in the Gulf of Mexico captured video of an elusive giant squid—the first recorded sighting in U.S. waters. In the 28-second clip, the cephalopod emerges from the blackness of the deep sea and attacks an electronic jellyfish. After wrapping its tentacles around the luminescent bait, the squid loses interest and disappears in the murk. Since ancient times, philosophers and naturalists have puzzled over this rarely seen enigma. There’s plenty we still don’t know about giant squid, but we’ve learned a lot over the past 20 years.

1. Giant squid eyes are the size of Frisbees.

Woman next to a preserved giant squid eye
Smithsonian Institution, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A staggering 10.5 inches across, a squid’s eyeballs lack the jelly-like substance that gives ours their shape. Instead, they’re filled with water, which leaks out once the invertebrate dies. "The eyes collapse. It's like a collapsed plastic bag,” biologist Dan-Eric Nilsson told NPR in 2012.

2. Female giant squid are bigger than males.

On average, female giant squid are around twice the size of males from the tip of their beaks to the ends of their two longest tentacles.

3. Giant squid suckers can leave ugly battle scars.

The giant squid's main enemy is the sperm whale. While under attack, the squid often retaliate by inflicting large, circular wounds, courtesy of the serrated rings around each sucker.

4.The giant squid’s maximum length is about 43 feet.

At least, that’s what the available evidence tells us. Reports of 60- and 70-footers have never been verified scientifically.

5. Instead of a proper tongue, they use a radula.

This organ rests inside their beaks and is covered with seven rows of denticles—sharp, toothy, backwards-pointing protrusions.

6. There may be just one known species.

A genetic analysis in 2013 suggested that Architeuthis duxis the only species of giant squid, as revealed by a comparison of 43 specimens from around the world. The giant squid gene pool seemed abnormally shallow—all 43 subjects were pretty much indistinguishable in this regard. “It’s completely bizarre,” geneticist Thomas Gilbert said. “How can something be global but have so little variation?” Other researchers, however, argue that there may be as many as eight Architeuthis species out there.

7. Giant squid tentacles can regenerate.

One giant squid corpse found in Canada in 1968 had a partially regenerated tentacle. According to a study of the specimen in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, "the regenerated club differed in length and width, and in the size and pattern of suckers, when compared with the normal tentacular arm." Many cephalopods besides squid are capable of this feat, including octopuses.

8. An estimated 4.3 to 131 million get eaten by sperm whales each year.

The squid regularly show up inside sperm whale stomachs. Approximately 360,000 of these mammals swim the oceans. So, if every sperm whale on Earth devoured an average of one giant squid per month, that means 4.3 million would be offed annually.

But some experts think this figure is way too low. Every single day, male whales put away 300 to 400 squid of various species, while females consume an outrageous 700 to 800 squid. Should Architeuthis represent even 1 percent of their diet, then the whales eat 3.6 million daily. That’s 131 million giant squid killed annually.

9. Giant squid may have helped give rise to sea serpent legends.

In one of Moby-Dick’s more memorable chapters, an Architeuthis slithers towards Captain Ahab’s whaleboat. Apparently, Herman Melville wasn’t a fan—Ishmael describes the squid as a “vast, pulpy mass” complete with “innumerable long arms radiating from its center, curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas.” But Melville wasn't alone. Many believe that this predator’s writhing, snake-like limbs have long inspired sea serpent yarns.

10. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea grossly overestimates the giant squid’s usual weight.

Jules Verne’s 1869 masterpiece remains impressive today: his novel predicted the invention of both scuba tanks and taser guns. But there are still a few gaffes to be found, particularly during the book’s most iconic scene. When hordes of giant squid attack, the narrator, a French professor named Pierre Arronax, estimates that each one must weigh “between four and five thousand pounds.” But as far as modern scientists can tell, the heaviest animals weigh around a ton—although most are less than 1000 pounds.

11. Like all squids, giant squids have three hearts.

A median heart pumps oxygenated blood throughout the body, which it receives from two smaller ones that pump blood through the gills.

12. Architeuthis penises are about a yard long.

Nobody has ever documented a pair of giant squid getting busy. But biologists suspect that males use their sex organs like syringes, injecting sperm into a female’s skin, where she stores the cells until her eggs need fertilizing. When that happens, the mom-to-be pulls them out of storage (though we’re not sure how).

13. The first giant squid photo ever shot was taken inside of a bathroom.

First photo of a giant squid
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1873, Newfoundland minister Moses Harvey acquired a dead Architeuthis which he laid out over his shower curtain rod and preserved for posterity. He’d purchased this specimen for just $10 from a few local fishermen who’d ensnared it with their nets while out in Logy Bay.

14. Giant squid might be cannibals.

Bits and pieces of one Architeuthis showed up in a live giant squid's stomach. But this doesn’t necessarily prove that giant squid dine on one another—some scientists speculate that the squid may have accidentally swallowed a few parts of itself somehow.

15. The Smithsonian has two giant squid on display.

You can see them in the National Museum of Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall. The pair represents both sexes—here’s a quick look at their 25-foot female (it was probably 36 feet while alive):

16. Their brains are donut-shaped.

But that’s not the weird part. What’s truly bizarre (at least from our mammal-centric perspective) is the fact that its esophagus passes through the hole in the middle of its brain. Giant squids have to be really careful while swallowing, because if a given meal isn’t broken down into small pieces first, it can rub against the brain and cause damage.

17. Before 2004, nobody had ever snapped any pictures of a live one …

History was made by residents of the Ogasawara Islands (located 600 miles south of Japan) on September 30, 2004. Using a line baited with shrimp, zoologist Tsunemi Kubodera and whale-watcher Kyochi Mori attracted an Architeuthis about 2950 feet beneath their vessel. Five hundred still images were then snapped by a submerged camera before the squid took off—leaving behind an 18-foot severed tentacle.

18. … And the world’s first giant squid video didn’t arrive until 2006.

Kubodera would top himself that year when his crew videotaped a young female as they dragged her up to the surface. “We believe this is the first time anyone has successfully filmed a giant squid that was alive,” he said. “Now that we know where to find them, we think we can be more successful at studying them in the future.” Sadly, Kubodera’s prize died during the ordeal.

19. Jellyfish help Architeuthis hunt.

They say the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Certain jellyfish are bioluminescent, which means that they can light themselves up and illuminate the ocean’s inky depths. Predators like giant squid eat many of the fish that hunt jellyfish. So, if a bioluminescent jelly finds itself under attack, it can issue a cry for help by flashing a distress signal, in the hopes that it might attract an even larger carnivore and scare off its assailant. That was the theory behind luring the giant squid with an electronic jellyfish, as seen in the recent NOAA video.

20. It’s not the only monster-sized squid out there.

Meet Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, better known as the colossal squid. Though Architeuthis probably exceeds it length-wise, M. hamiltoni is heavier on average, has even bigger eyeballs, and wields swiveling hooks on its tentacles. This isn't a creature you’d want to mess with.

11 Tips for Traveling With Your Pet, According to a Veterinarian

iStock/walik
iStock/walik

Planning a trip can be stressful no matter the circumstances. When you want to include the family pet in your plans, you have a whole new list of things to worry about, including packing the right equipment, checking your hotel’s pet policy, and making sure your pet meets the travel criteria for the state or country you’re visiting. But if you’re aware of the steps you need to take, traveling with your pet can be a positive experience for all involved. Mental Floss spoke with Dr. Danielle Bernal, a veterinarian with Wellness Natural Pet Food, about what to keep in mind before hitting the road with your furry companion.

1. Keep pets comfortable in a travel crate.

You may be tempted to give your pet plenty of room on long car trips, but giving them a confined space that’s their own is usually the better option. According to Bernal, “It’s often better for the dog, because if they’re crate-trained, that’s their area of security.” It’s safer as well: An animal is much better off in a durable crate than it is sliding around untethered in the backseat of a car.

2. Don’t fill your pet's crate with toys.

Giving your pet lots of toys to play with at home is a good thing—but on long car trips it's a different story. Packing every toy your pet loves into their crate takes up what little room they have to themselves. If the crate is too full, it can be impossible for them to move around and adjust their position. “Yes, you want them to be comfortable, but also you don’t want to fill that crate up,” Bernal says. “So almost less is more.”

3. Make sure you have all the correct paperwork.

If you’re planning a long trip with your pet, you won’t get very far without the right paperwork. Many places require incoming pets to have an up-to-date health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian. Before signing the documents, vets will confirm that your pet is healthy and up-to-date on all vaccinations required by the receiving state or country. If you’re flying, contact the airline to see if any other special paperwork is required to transport your animal.

4. Make it easier to find your pet if they get lost.

An unfamiliar location miles away from home is the worst place to lose your pet. Before your trip, make sure they’re easy to find in case the worst happens. Implanting a microchip under your dog or cat’s skin will make them trackable no matter where in the country they wander off to. If you’re not willing to commit to that procedure, at least make sure the contact information on their tags is up-to-date—that way, they're more likely to be returned to satefy if someone finds them.

5. Skip a meal on travel days.

No matter how accommodating you are to your pet, some anxiety on their part is inevitable. Bernal says a common symptom of this is stress diarrhea—which is the last thing pet owners want to deal with on a long car or plane ride. Even if your pet doesn't seem stressed before the trip, plain old motion sickness can upset your animal’s stomach rather quickly. Bernal recommends feeding them less than you usually would prior to traveling to avoid future accidents: “If you have a pet you know has those sensitivities, I would keep their tummy empty. It will be good for the pet and it will be nicer for everyone in the car too.” That doesn’t mean you should starve your pet if they’re begging for food; just skip the last meal you would normally feed them before beginning your journey.

6. Keep your pet hydrated.

Without regular access to water whenever they need it, pets can get easily dehydrated when traveling. Keep this in mind when traveling and pack extra water for your four-legged passenger. Allowing animals to self-regulate their water intake, perhaps by attaching a bowl to the inside of their crate, is ideal, but if that’s not possible, stop frequently to give them a chance to drink. Another way to keep them feeling good is to feed them wet food instead of dry; according to Bernal, the water content in wet food can help hydrate pets.

7. keep them occupied with a toy.

If you can only give your pet one toy on a long trip, choose something that will keep them busy for as long as possible. Bernal recommends puzzle dog toys like those you’ll find from the pet brand Kong. When your dog is preoccupied on reaching the treat inside the toy, it's harder for them to focus on anything else—including the stress of traveling to a new place.

8. Never leave your pet in a car alone.

Hopefully this is common sense for most pet parents, but Bernal emphasizes that this is the most important thing to remember when traveling with an animal—especially during the summer months. “Don’t leave them in a locked car,” she says. “It takes seven minutes for them to basically move into a situation where it becomes fatal.” It doesn’t matter if you crack a window or if you’re only stepping out of your car for a few minutes. If it’s a hot day, dogs should never be left alone in a vehicle. “We need to make sure that all pet parents are aware of that,” Bernal says.

9. Choose pet-friendly accommodations.

You may love your pet, but that doesn’t mean the owner of the hotel or Airbnb where you’re staying will love them, too; be mindful of this when booking accommodations for your trip. There are plenty of hotels that offer perks for pet owners, like doggie daycare, but even if a place doesn’t advertise their pet policy, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask (or simply confirm what you're reading online so that there are no surprises when you arrive).

10. Make your travel destination feel like home.

Your pet’s crate may not be the best place for all their toys, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pack them when going on vacation. Bringing their favorite items from home can make pets feel more at ease when they arrive at an unfamiliar destination. “Pack things that are familiar to them, so when they arrive at a new spot they’re like: ‘Ok, I feel a lot more comfortable,’” Bernal says. “It helps with their anxiety.” And you shouldn’t stop at toys: Packing their bed, bowl, and blanket can have the same calming effect.

11. Know when it's best to leave your pet at home.

Not every vacation is improved by bringing your pet along. If you plan on spending most of your trip in places that don’t allow animals, like museums, restaurants, and theme parks, it may be best to leave your pet at a kennel or with a sitter or trusted friend. Even if the vacation is pet-friendly, it may not be a good fit for an animal that’s especially anxious. “If you have a nervous dog, he’s actually going to be happier in his home if someone just comes in and feeds him,” Bernal says. Your pet will forgive you for having fun without them.

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