African Extremes: The Largest and Smallest Animals on the Continent of Africa
When you think of an African animal, perhaps the massive African elephant comes to mind. Or perhaps you’ll dream up images of the fearsome African lion. Or the speed demon – the cheetah.
Africa is a continent with remarkable biological diversity. About 100,000 species of insects lie below the Sahara. The continent as a whole holds 3,000 species of freshwater fish, over 2,600 species of birds, and over 1,100 species of mammals. It has a tremendous mix of population density, range of space for animals and biological diversity. Southern Africa also claims to have “the largest variety of animals in the world”.
But for the purposes of this article, we’re concerned with the extremes – particularly the extremes of size. We’ll be unpacking the biggest and smallest animals that Africa has to offer, spotlighting the extremes of each major type of animal.
Largest – The aforementioned African elephant is Africa’s – and the world’s – largest living land mammal. The male African elephant stands 8.2-13 feet (2.5-4 meters) at the shoulder. It weighs between 5,000 and 14,000 pounds (2,268-6,350 kilograms). Poaching has massively cut down on the African elephant population; small dots of elephant-heavy areas are scattered throughout the central and southern reaches of the continent.
Smallest – The Etruscan pygmy shrew is Africa’s – and, like the African elephant, the world’s – smallest living land mammal. Its tail is only an inch (2.5 centimeters) long; it’s entire body (including the tail) is only 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) long, and it only weighs one-fourteenth of an ounce (2 grams). The Etruscan pygmy shrew can be found in small portions of North Africa.
Largest – The ostrich is Africa’s – and, again, the world’s – largest living species of bird. (Are you noticing a trend here?) These birds can reach a maximum height of 8.53 feet (2.6 meters) and a maximum weight of 297 pounds (135 kilograms). Three ostrich species can be found in a strip of central Africa, while another dwells in a more southern part of the continent.
Smallest – Africa’s smallest bird is called the Southern (or “Cape”) Penduline-tit. It is only 3.93 inches (10 centimeters) tall and weighs only about 0.28 ounces (8 grams). Keeping to its name, it is distributed throughout a number of Africa’s southern countries: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Largest – Africa’s largest reptile is a crocodile known as the Nile crocodile. Nile crocodiles have quite a good deal of variance in size. Usually they’re 11.5-16 feet (3.5-5 meters) in length, and they weigh somewhere in the vicinity of 500 pounds (225 kilograms). However, certain Nile crocodiles can get much larger than these baselines. The largest Nile crocodile on record was 21.3 feet (6.45 meters) long and weighed about 2,400 pounds (1,090 kilograms). Like their size variance, Nile crocodiles have a very large geographical range. They can be found all around central Africa.
Smallest – Africa’s smallest reptile is called the Karoo Dwarf Chameleon. This chameleon is only 6 inches (14 centimeters) long. This chameleon can be found in northeastern regions of South Africa.
Largest – Africa’s largest amphibian is the aptly named goliath frog. This frog’s body can reach up to 13 inches (33 centimeters), and it can weigh up to 8 pounds (3 kilograms). The goliath frog can be found in sections of Cameroon and equatorial Guinea.
Smallest – Africa’s smallest amphibian is a frog called the “micro frog”. This frog is one of the world’s smallest frogs, reaching only 0.4-0.7 inches (1.0-1.8 centimeters) in length. Funnily enough, this frog’s tadpole form is actually larger than the mature frog! A micro frog tadpole usually reaches about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in length before taking the next step in maturity towards full-fledged frog-dom. Unfortunately, the micro frog is classified as “critically endangered”. As of now, it can only be found in the wild in the southwestern portion of South Africa’s Western Cape province.
Largest – Africa’s largest insect is the (again, aptly named) goliath beetle. Male goliath beetles range from 2.4–4.3 inches (60-110 millimeters) in length; as larvae, they can weigh up to 2.8-3.5 ounces (80-100 grams). The goliath beetle can be found in Africa’s various tropical forests. The majority of goliath beetles dwell in the rain forests around the equator.
Smallest – Africa’s smallest insect is the dwarf blue butterfly, which can be found in portions of South Africa. This butterfly has an amazingly small wingspan – only half an inch!
Largest – Africa’s largest freshwater fish is the Nile perch. Like the goliath beetle, this animal can be found in lakes and rivers in Africa’s tropical regions. It can reach over 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length, and can get to be as heavy as 440 pounds (200 kilograms).
Smallest – Unfortunately, I could not find records for Africa’s smallest fish. If you can find this information, please post it below!
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