Earth is full of giants. They're in our oceans, in our forests, and even lurking underground. Some you may know, but others may come as a surprise, and of course we have some fun nicknames for them. Life can grow to impressive sizes that can remind us just how small we really are on this planet. As you’ll see, part of the reason that these animals can grow so large is because they have had a long time to do so, whether it's centuries or millennia. So who are some of the largest organisms on earth? Let’s get into it!
Above Photo by @ben_neri_ on Instagram
The largest animal in the world goes to the Blue Whale. These leviathans can grow close to 100ft (30m) long and weigh around 300,000lbs (136,000kg). And they start their lives already impressively large. After a 10–12-month pregnancy, blue whales are born at about 26ft (8m) long and already 4 tons, and they continue to gain around 250lbs (115kg) a day. Blue whales are mostly solitary animals but do come together for the breeding season. They can live to be over 100 years old.
The Blue whale is not even close to the largest organism on the planet though. Coming onto land, the next largest organism is a tree, or trees, nicknamed Pando, which is a quaking aspen tree in Utah, USA. Pando is a single tree with around 47,000 different trunks over an area of about 106 acres. Although quaking aspens can reproduce sexually through the production of seeds, in ideal conditions they do rhizomal growth, where new trunks can grow off of rhizome root shoots in the soil. These roots are still genetically the same plant. All this mass makes them around 40x the weight of a blue whale. More specifically, about 13 million lbs (6 million kg). Pando is so massive because it has had a very long time to grow, although the exact age of the organism is tough to tell because the individual trunks grow to the average age of 130 years and then die and are replaced by new trunks.
Although Pando is large, the trunks are not particularly tall. The tallest trees are the coastal redwoods in Northern California, and the one that stands above the rest is a tree called Hyperion. As of 2019, Hyperion measured in at 380ft 9.7in (116.07m) with a trunk diameter of 16ft 2.5in (4.94m) according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It stands above the rest of the trees around it because 96% of the original redwood growth around it has been logged, so the trees are much younger. Hyperion is between 600-800 years old.
But none of the previous organisms have the title for the largest organism on earth. That title belongs to a mushroom correctly nicknamed, the humongous fungus. This fungus, classified as Armillaria ostoyae was discovered in 1998 and occupies almost 2,400 acres, which is nearly four square miles (10 sq km). It is estimated to be about 2,400 years old. Part of the expansive success of this species comes from its ability to spread out rhizomorphs, similar to the rhizome roots in the quaking aspen, that can expand out to find new sources of food, which are the roots of conifers. Unfortunately, Armillaria ostoyae causes Armillaria root disease which kills many conifer trees.
The giants of earth show us what is possible. Diverse oceans can support large mammals, nutrient rich soils can nourish large and tall trees, and special adaptations can promote expansive growth. The largest organisms on the planet tower above us and expand around us and lurk beneath our feet.
Pando - Aspen
Hyperion - Coast Redwood