Think you know the toughest animals out there? They may not be the ones you think.
Nature can be a cruel mistress but then so can the animals that call her home.
Some kill, some maim, and some just don’t give a damn.
These are the FIVE toughest critters on the planet.
The Guinness book has declared the honey badger as, “the world’s most fearless animal.” It looks like a weird skunk or, from the front, like a tiny bear wearing an old man’s toupée, and it’s got the personality to match. These are the psychopaths of the savannah—small-ish omnivores that live in holes. If you were to cast Goodfellas using only African animals, Joe Pesci would definitely be a honey badger. These ferocious weasel cousins will kill and eat anything their size or smaller (rabbits, rodents, lizards), but they’re also famous for attacking anything that steps on or near their dens, including horses, large antelope, and even Cape buffalo. Honey badgers have been observed chasing lions away from prey, will kill and eat cobras, and don’t like to waste anything — they’ve evolved to digest entire animals, including bones and feathers. And of course, they DGAF.
Sure, the emperor is the tallest and heaviest penguin, a fact that by default makes it the toughest of these beautifully weird, flightless birds. But weighing 80 pounds and swimming like a torpedo is hardly enough to offset awkward waddling and a lack of teeth or claws, so why is the emperor penguin so high on this list? Because emperor penguins live in Antarctica, the world’s harshest and most unforgiving environment. During the breeding season—which is winter, of course—emperor penguins walk up to 75 miles over ice just to mate. Males then sit vigil for weeks over a fertilized egg, enduring frequent blizzards and 100 mile-per-hour winds, not to mention temperatures that drop as low as -40. Meanwhile, their ladies are off hunting in below freezing waters (the water temp, generally, is just under 29 degrees), diving up to 1755 feet in search of snacks that they’ll then bring home by trudging back across that ice, through the wind and snow. Try and argue against their position now.
This is not a CGI monster from Star Wars. The tardigrade is one of the world’s smallest animals—rarely longer than 1.5mm and visible only in a microscope. Though more than 900 species of tardigrades exist, occupying nearly every corner of the globe, in every possible environment, and that’s what makes these little guys so tough. They survive at the bottom of the ocean, inside hot springs, and even at the top of Mount Everest. To test just how hearty tardigrades are, scientists threw a bunch of them on a satellite and launched it into space. When it came back, many of them were still alive, despite having endured a trip into an environment that would kill a human in a matter of seconds. How do they do it? Tardigrades, like yeast, can survive extreme drying. They can shed nearly all of their water and go into a kind of suspended animation until they’re rehydrated—whether that’s a few hours or many months later.
Polar bears are the world’s largest and most carnivorous bears, as well as the largest land carnivore period, though much of what makes them so tough is that they don’t actually spend much time on land. For much of winter, polar bears live on the Arctic pack ice, sometimes wandering thousands of miles in a single year in search of their favorite snack: seals. If the occasion arises, polar bears will also hunt walrus and even small whales, and when especially hungry, have been known to swim up to 100 miles through frigid Arctic seawater in pursuit of prey.
Size matters here, and no living land animal is larger than the African elephant, which can stand up to 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weigh nearly 14,000 pounds. Elephants are generally gentle giants when it comes to other animals, but they are hell on habitat, knocking down trees and devouring more than 500 pounds of leaves and branches in a day. When angry or frightened, an elephant is probably the single most dangerous animal alive, since it can run 15 miles-per-hour and easily overturn a car or truck. Its trunk alone can lift 700 pounds. If all of these animals were crammed into a boxing ring, it’s hard to imagine the elephant not being the last one standing.