Giant Animals

Whether they swim in the ocean, fly through the skies, or walk on four legs across the land, giant animals have always captured the imagination.

Museum of Natural Sciences RBINS, Belgium, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Senckenberg Naturmuseum Frankfurt, Australian Museum

In this Expedition, you will explore several of the world’s museums of natural history and science to get an up-close look at some of the planet’s largest creatures, from both the past and the present.

Giants on Display

Established in 1846, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) houses over 37,000,000 specimens of animals, minerals, and prehistoric items, which makes it one of the world’s top ten natural history collections. 

Some of the planet’s largest creatures—past and present—can be found on display as either fossilized skeletons (the museum boasts almost 30 complete Iguanodon skeletons!) or life-size replicas. Explore this exhibit to see two of the largest animals ever to walk the planet.

The Elephant

Today’s biggest land mammal, the elephant grows up to 11 feet high and weighs up to 8 tons. Elephants are matriarchal, meaning the females are the leaders of the herd. Herbivores, elephants eat up to 600 pounds of vegetation a day.

Mammuthus primigenius, aka Wooly Mammoth

The Wooly mammoth (named for its long fur) is a direct relative of today’s elephant. Extinct since the last ice age, there’s a chance the wooly mammoth will live again: Some scientists are trying to clone one by merging its DNA with an elephant’s. 

Giants of the Ocean

Sant Ocean Hall in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is the museum’s largest exhibit, and it features some of the world’s largest creatures. While not all ocean giants are creatures of the deep, several in this exhibit are.

Deep-sea gigantism is a term applied to deep ocean invertebrates (animals without a spine) that grow much larger than their shallow-water kin. The models suspended from the ceiling here are actual size, proving that giants most certainly do exist.

Giant Squid

These deep-sea giants can grow up to 13 meters long and have eyes up to 10 inches in diameter. Giant squids propel themselves forward by pumping water through their mantles. Gills inside the mantle absorb oxygen from the water.  

Right Whale

Right whales, or large baleen whales, reach 50 feet in length and weigh up to 79 tons. Like all mammals, these creatures breathe air, which they take in through two blow holes at the top of the head. 

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

Lion’s mane jellyfish is the largest jellyfish on Earth, with bells up to 7½ feet in diameter and tentacles known to be up to 120 feet long. A jellyfish absorbs oxygen from the surrounding waters through its super thin tissue.

Giant Reptiles

While known for its Dinosaur Exhibit, the Senckenberg Naturmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany, also a features a large reptile exhibit, which includes full-sized models of several of the world’s largest reptiles. 

Reptiles come in various shapes and sizes—evident in the wildly differing forms and features of the tortoise and anaconda seen here—but all reptiles share certain characteristics: they are cold-blooded vertebrates covered with bony plates or scales, and they typically lay soft-shelled eggs.

Anaconda

Despite growing up to 30 feet long and weighing up to 550 pounds, these South American snakes are superb swimmers. An anaconda constricts, or squeezes, its prey—such as small deer and caima—to death, and then swallows the carcass whole.

Giant Tortoise

With an average lifespan of over 100 years, giant tortoises are the longest-lived vertebrates on Earth. These reptiles sleep up to 16 hours a day and, thanks to their slow metabolism, can survive for one year without food or water.

Tallest Mammal

As you explore this section of Sydney’s Australian Museum, take some time to view the giraffe, the tallest animal in the exhibit and the world. The giraffe, an herbivore found in Africa’s grasslands, stands up to 19 feet tall.

As it’s both difficult and risky to bend its long neck down to drink at a watering hole, the giraffe has adapted to get most of its water from the tree leaves it eats.

The Giraffe

Using legs up to 6 feet long, giraffes can run as fast as 35 miles per hour. Interestingly, a giraffe neck is about 6 feet long but contains the same number of vertebrae as a human neck: 7.

"Vanished Giants”

As you explore this section of Sydney’s Australian Museum, notice the text at the top of the information board to your left: “Vanished Giants - what happened?” This exhibit displays images, information, specimens, and full-sized reproductions of some of the largest creatures to ever walk the planet—all of which are extinct. 

One of the largest and most unique-looking creatures in this exhibit is Diprotodon optatum, a name that means “two forward teeth.”

Diprotodon optatum

Diprotodon optatum was the largest marsupial in Earth’s history. The largest specimen found, nicknamed Kenny by researchers, had a jaw bone over 2 feet long! Some female fossils reveal young where the mother’s pouch would have been.

The American Museum of Natural History’s Titanosaur

The American Museum of Natural History was founded in 1869 and spans four city blocks in New York City. In 2016, the museum added one seriously enormous display: the cast skeleton of a titanosaur, a gigantic forest­dwelling herbivore that lived during the Late Cretaceous period, approximately 100 million years ago.

Not all the bones belonging to a single titanosaur were found in Argentina’s Patagonian Desert; to create a complete skeleton, scientists used what they know of the titanosaur’s close relatives to “fill in the blanks.”

The New Kid on the Block

The complete titanosaur cast is 122 feet long, making it impossible to completely fit in the exhibition room. So, the head and part of its 39­foot long neck extend through the doorway toward the elevators. Scientists estimate a real titanosaur weighed 70 tons. 

Titanosaur Femur

The 8-foot long femur, or thigh bone, in the nearby exhibiton the wall is one of the original fossils discovered in the desert. To help you understand just how colossal this femur is, the average human thigh bone measures approximately 19 inches long.

Titanosaur Forelimb (Scapula, Humerus, Radius, Ulna)

Adjacent to the femur are four more original fossils that comprise the bones of the titanosaur’s forelimb, including the scapula, or shoulder blade. These bones are anatomically positioned to help you better envision how the limb moved.

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