North America is a continent rich with wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Some of the largest animals in the world live here.
There is a wide variety on this list, including land mammals, birds, and ocean giants. Here are the ten largest animals in North America.
The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. The tongue alone can weigh as much as an adult elephant, and a mature blue whale can tip the scales at a colossal 200 tons or 448,000 pounds!
For such a huge animal, blue whales eat the tiniest food. Their diet is mostly krill, a tiny crustacean similar to a shrimp. A blue whale will take a mouthful of water and then use its baleen plates to filter krill while forcing water back out of its mouth.
Blue whales are a common sighting for fisherman around the coasts of California, Florida, and Hawaii during the spring and summer.
Blue whales will eat as much as 8000 pounds of krill every day to sustain their enormous size. Blue whale calves suckle from their mother for the first 6 to 18 months of their life. A calf will consume around 150 gallons of milk per day.
These ocean wonders were believed to be a myth until a fisherman accidentally caught a dead specimen and brought it back to shore.
The giant squid is found in most oceans, but they are relatively common off the coast of North America, particularly in the Labrador Sea to the West of Newfoundland.
Due to their elusive nature and preference for deep water, not much is known about giant squids. Only one has ever been caught alive. In 2006, a 24-foot female was brought to the surface by scientists from the Japanese National Science Museum.
The largest specimen ever found measured 59 feet in length and weighed almost one ton. They have one of the most extensive body lengths of any animal, but they also have the largest eyes of any living creature.
At a diameter of 10 inches, a giant squid’s eyes are the same size as a dinner plate! While they hunt primarily for fish and other smaller squid, the giant squid is known to attack and even feed on small whales.
Great White Shark
The most fearsome creature of the deep sea, great whites have a reputation for being ruthless maneaters. In reality, they are graceful and curious creatures capable of reaching swimming speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.
A mature great white can grow between 15 and 20 feet long, weighing more than 1000kg/2.5 tons.
Hollywood movies like Jaws have given great whites a bad reputation, but they are not as aggressive as these films portray. Most great white attacks on humans occur to swimmers, surfers, and bodyboarders.
This is because the silhouette on the surface looks very similar to a seal. Great whites are ambush predators, striking their prey from below in a surprise attack. A surfer with their arms and legs in the water looks like a fat seal to a great white.
On land, the largest North American animal is the bison. Standing at 6.5 feet tall at the shoulder, American bison are stocky bovines, cousins of the domestic cow.
Bulls can weigh as much as 2000 pounds, with females around half that, standing approximately 4.5 feet tall.
Bison are confused with buffalo, perhaps due to the French word for beef, “boeuf.” There are no buffalo species in North America.
Bison are generally peaceful animals found on open grassland in large herds. They are herbivores, spending most of their time grazing on grasses and shrubs.
Yellowstone National Park is the best place to see wild bison, but the Department of the Interior manages 17 herds across 12 states.
A serious contender to bison in terms of size is the Alaskan moose. Found in the Yukon Territory and Alaska, this moose species is the largest in North America.
Adult males can weigh as much as 1800 pounds and have a shoulder height of 6.5 – 7ft. Males grow antlers that can grow as long as 6 feet and weigh up to 40 pounds. They lose their antlers in winter and regrow them in early spring.
Moose are an increasingly common sighting in urbanized areas, particularly in backyards. In summer, it is a common occurrence for homeowners to see moose playing in their garden sprinklers.
Road networks have ‘moose crossing’ signs to signal to drivers that moose are common in the area in some states. A car hitting a moose can cause fatalities to both the animal and the vehicle’s inhabitants.
The beautiful grizzly bear is a large furry bear usually found in dense forests. An adult bear stands around 5ft at the shoulder and is as tall as 8ft when standing on the hind legs.
Bears have been known to chase hunters and hikers, especially after hibernation when young cubs accompany females.
Hibernation begins in late October or early November, and female bears will even give birth during this time. In March, they emerge from their dens when the weather warms and there are more daylight hours.
Grizzlies are omnivores, eating a variety of vegetation such as berries, plant bulbs, leaves, nuts, rodents, moose, and fish. In times of food scarcity, bears have also been known to consume roadkill.
Found predominantly in the Florida everglades, American alligators are certainly fearsome. They grow up to 15 feet in length and live as long as 50 years.
Alligators have changed very little since most dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. They have had little need to since they are so well adapted to their environment.
Their bodies are ideally suited to life in the water, with a strong tail used for propulsion. Resting alligators can float just below the water surface with only the very tip of their nose and their eyes visible above the waterline.
Alligators feed primarily on fish, other aquatic reptiles, and snakes, but occasionally they eat carrion and even attack humans.
Females dig a nest in the ground in which to lay their eggs. The temperature of the nest will affect which gender the hatchlings are. In conditions at 86°F/30°C or below, hatchlings will be male. Eggs developing in temperatures above 94°F/33°C will be male. Intermediate temperatures will result in both male and female hatchlings.
Sometimes called cougar or puma, mountain lions are incredibly secretive animals. Unlike other big cats, mountain lions do not roar. Instead, they produce a low rumble or purr, similar to domestic cats.
Mountain lions are highly adaptable and can be found as far north as Alaska, across North America, and as far south as Chile in South America.
They are excellent climbers, thriving in rocky or mountainous regions and using caves as dens.
Adult mountain lions are approximately 2m long from nose to tail, but they can be as long as 2.75m and weigh 100kg. Males are slightly larger and heavier than females.
With such large paws and powerful legs, it is no wonder mountain lions are fast. An adult lion can run at speeds of up to 80km per hour, and they are excellent jumpers.
When it comes to birds, the Californian condor takes the top spot. They are the largest flying bird species in North America regarding body weight, size, and wingspan. Condors can grow up to 4.5 feet long from beak to tail, with a bodyweight of 20-30 pounds and an impressive wingspan of 9-10 feet.
They use thermal air currents to glide at up to 15,000 feet. They survey their immediate surroundings in search of animal carcasses and will even track injured animals.
Californian condors were once on the verge of extinction and are perhaps one of the best examples of successful species conservation. The biggest threat to their survival was lead poisoning from bullets used by hunters. Condors would scavenge the carcasses of deer and moose, ingesting lead from their bloodstream.
Condors do not reach sexual maturity until around six years of age, and they mate for life. A female will lay a single egg every two years and devote many months to rearing their chick.
These magnificent birds are not much smaller than Californian condors. The bald eagle is the national symbol of the United States, a sign of courage and strength.
Unlike condors which are scavengers, eagles are birds of prey, hunting rodents such as mice and rabbits.
Most breeding pairs are found in Canada, but bald eagles can be found throughout North America and Northern Mexico.
A bald eagle nest takes as long as three months to build, and the largest known nest weighed an impressive 2000kg. Eagles add to their nest each year with twigs, branches, leaves, and feathers.
So there you have it, a stunning and impressive collection of North America’s largest animals. No wonder wildlife photographers spend so much time there!
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.