Ask A Scientist

What is the strongest animal in the world, but does not have a very big population?

Asked by: Brianna Mancini
School: Maine Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Kevin Wagstaff
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Career Interest: Chef, actress, president or artist

Answer from Debbie Dittrich

Research Support Specialist, Binghamton University

@font-face { font-family: "Courier New"; }@font-face { font-family: "Lucida Grande"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.MsoBodyText, li.MsoBodyText, div.MsoBodyText { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 13pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; color: black; }span.BodyTextChar { font-family: "Lucida Grande"; color: black; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }Family: 3 cats and 4 cockatiels Interests/hobbies: Docent at the Binghamton Zoo, nature photography, gardening

@font-face { font-family: "Times"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }This is an interesting question, since you are looking for an animal that is not only strong, but also not very plentiful.  My first instinct is that this animal will be an apex predator, so let’s discuss food chains.  At the very bottom of the food chain are plants.  Plants convert energy from the sun into carbohydrates.  Herbivores eat plants, and are in turn eaten by carnivores.  An example would be a rabbit whose diet consists entirely of plants, who is then eaten by a fox.  At each level of the food chain, energy is lost.  Since less energy is available, the number of individuals that can be supported at each level decreases.  In our example, rabbits would be more numerous than foxes.  Thus the further up the food chain an animal is, the fewer individuals there should be.  An apex predator is a creature at the top of the food chain, and one who is so difficult to kill that it would not be considered to be a regular part of any other animals’ diet.  In other words, it would be a strong animal with a small population.

Now we need to decide what we mean by “strong”.  One way to measure the strength of an animal is by determining how much it is able to lift relative to its own weight.  Using this definition, the strongest creature is the rhinoceros beetle, which can lift 850 times its weight.  However, a rhinoceros beetle weighs less than an ounce and can lift only 37.5 pounds.  Also, insects are low on the food chain and quite plentiful.  So we will need to modify our definition of strength.  An insect is able to lift many times its own weight because its muscles are tiny.  As the size of a muscle increases, more of the force available in the muscle is needed to move the muscle itself.  This means that less force is available to apply to the outside world.  Thus for larger animals, we will need to include animals that can lift the greatest weight.  Elephants, which can carry 12,000 pounds, would therefore be the strongest animals.  Although they are at the top of their food chain, they are herbivores and therefore capable of having a large population.  Other strong animals include rhinoceros, grizzly bears, gorillas and tigers.  Each is at the top of its food chain, but only grizzly bears and tigers are apex predators.  A complication to our theory is now apparent: many of these animals are endangered by the ultimate apex predator, man.  

Tigers are native to Asia and India, and are threatened by habitat destruction, human/animal conflict, poaching, and prey depletion.  Numbering around 100,000 at the beginning of the twentieth century, they have been depleted to an estimated 3200 wild individuals (interestingly there are more tigers in captivity than in the wild).    Deadly hunters with powerful back legs, tigers possess the ability to carry prey twice their own weight, or 1200 pounds.  Therefore the tiger is the strongest animal with the smallest population.           


Last Updated: 3/1/17