North American Extremes: The Largest and Smallest Animals on the Continent of North America
Imagine yourself in the middle of an open plain, with a herd of bison grazing on the horizon. If you had to make a split-second guess, where do you think you’d be?
I believe your answer would be “North America”.
For the purposes of this article, we’re concerned with North American extremes – particularly the extremes of its animals’ size. (In this case, the American bison is North America’s largest mammal.) We’ll be unpacking the biggest and smallest animals that North America has to offer, spotlighting the extremes of each major type of animal – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and fish. And we will begin with the above specimen – the American bison.
Largest – The American bison (Bison bison), which can be found in the continent’s plains and open grasslands, is North America’s largest mammal. A shaggy, cow-esque creature, it can reach up to 6.5 feet (2.0 meters) in height and 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) in weight.
Smallest – The American pygmy shrew (Sorex hoyi), which can be found in Alaska, Canada and the northern United States, is North America’s smallest mammal. It resembles a mouse or rat, and is only 1.5 to 2.0 inches (3.8 to 5.1 centimeters) in length. It also only weighs around 0.07 ounces (1.98 grams).
Largest – The California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) is North America’s largest bird. Its weight varies between 316.8 and 387.2 ounces (9 to 11 kilograms). Its body length varies as well, between 46 and 55 inches (1.16 to 1.40 meters). Its wingspan is more constant, and can reach up to 9.8 feet (2.99 meters). This carrion eater can be found in the desert areas of southern and central California.
Smallest – The tiny Calliope hummingbird (Stellula calliope) is North America’s smallest bird. Its body length is 3.5 inches (9 centimeters), and its wingspan is 4.3 inches (11 centimeters). Like other members of the “smallest organisms” club, its weight is a mere fraction of an ounce (2 – 3 grams). This hummingbird can be found in the northwestern United States’ mountainous regions.
Largest – The largest reptile in North America is the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis.html). This alligator can be found in swamps, rivers, marshes and other watery areas in the southeastern United States – especially in Florida, where it has spawned the Gator mascot for the University of Florida’s athletic teams. Its average weight is a whopping 5,280 ounces (150 kilograms). As far as length goes, the American alligator ranges between 9.84 and 14.76 feet (3.00 and 4.50 meters).
Smallest – The ground skink (Scincella lateralis), which can be found in all but the wettest portions of the eastern and southeastern United States, is a strong contender for this position. This “small, slender lizard” ranges between 3 and 5.5 inches (7.5 to 14.5 centimeters).
Largest – The largest amphibian in North America is the hellbender (Cryptobranchus allegeniensis), which is usually found in southeastern Ohio. The hellbender is a mammoth salamander that almost resembles a catfish. An extraordinary specimen can get up to 26 inches (66 centimeters) long, but normally hellbenders stay between 11.5 and 20 inches (29 to 51 centimeters).
Smallest – The oak toad (Bufo quericus) is North America’s smallest amphibian. It can be found in moist areas along the coastlands of the southeastern United States – states like Florida, Louisiana and Virginia. It has an average length of 1.02 inches (26 millimeters); overall, its length ranges from 0.75 to 1.30 inches (19 to 33 millimeters).
Largest – The so-called Black Witch moth (Ascalapha odorata) is the largest insect in North America. It is commonly found in Texas, but can range up to the northern United States and Canada, as well. This insect is characterized by its massive wingspan, which can lead to it resembling a bat. Its wingspan can get up to 7 inches (17.78 centimeters).
Smallest – The smallest insect unique to North America is called the feather-winged beetle (Nanosella fungi). It can be found in the southern and eastern United States. It is only 0.02 inches (0.50 millimeters) in body length, and it only weighs 0.0006 grains (0.4 milligrams).
Largest – The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is North America’s largest entirely freshwater fish. It has a maximum length of 10 feet (3.0 meters) and a maximum weight of 300 pounds (140 kilograms). It can be found in the coastal areas of the southeastern United States.
Smallest – Try as I might, I was unable to discover this information. If you know what the smallest freshwater fish in North America is, please, add it to this thread!
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