The Animal Olympics: which species are the fastest, heaviest and loudest

The animal kingdom is full of fantastic record-breaking animals, from penguins diving to over 500m, to the peacock mantis shrimp punching at a force roughly 100 times that of its weight!

An adult peregrine falcon. © Sanchez & Lope/WWF

With the Tokyo Olympics in full swing, WWF has picked out some medal-worthy wildlife from around the globe, to prove that record-breaking ability is not confined to humanity!

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These talented and remarkable species would earn a spot on an Olympic podium, but sadly many of them are also under threat from a range of threats including habitat loss and destruction and overexploitation. As our climate changes, we know that all life on earth will be affected and some of our most treasured species will be in danger if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C.


Record: deepest and longest dive (for a bird species)

Winner: emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Emperor penguins diving, Ross Sea, Antarctica. © National Geographic Creative/Paul Nicklen/WWF
Emperor penguins diving, Ross Sea, Antarctica. © National Geographic Creative/Paul Nicklen/WWF

The emperor penguin has the deepest and longest dive of any bird, often reaching depths of over 200 metres, and can stay submerged for up to 22 minutes. One female bird has been recorded at a depth of 565 metres!

Emperor penguins are the tallest (1.2m in height) and heaviest (22-45kg) species of penguin, and are found in Antarctica.

Though they thrive in the water, emperor penguins rely on the sea ice to breed, feed and rest, so climate change is possibly the biggest threat they face. The species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.


Record: heaviest tree-dwelling mammal

Winner: orangutan (Pongo)

Bornean orang-utan female 'Tata' and her unnamed baby aged 2-3 months, at Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. © naturepl.com/Fiona Rogers/WWF
Bornean orang-utan female ‘Tata’ and her unnamed baby aged 2-3 months, at Camp Leakey, Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. © naturepl.com/Fiona Rogers/WWF

Orangutans are the world’s heaviest tree-dwelling mammal. Male orangutans are nearly a meter tall and weigh 60-85kg. Females are slightly shorter and weigh in at roughly half the amount of their male counterparts.

Today, orangutans are only found in the wild on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. In 2017, a new species of orangutan was described by scientists; the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis). All three species are classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.


Record: most powerful bite (for cats)

Winner: jaguar (Panthera onca)

Jaguar in the Pantanal, Brazil. © Staffan Widstrand/WWF
Jaguar in the Pantanal, Brazil. © Staffan Widstrand/WWF

Jaguars have the most powerful bite of any big cat. Their teeth are strong enough to bite through the thick hides of crocodiles and the hard shells of river turtles. About 90% of these powerful predators are found in the Amazon rainforest. Sadly one of the main threats they face is deforestation and habitat loss, and the species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.


Record: longest living mammal

Winner: bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Bowhead whale just under ice, Arctic, © naturepl.com/Martha Holmes/WWF
Bowhead whale just under ice, Arctic, © naturepl.com/Martha Holmes/WWF

Bowhead whales are the longest living mammals on Earth, and can live for over 200 years. The species lives predominantly in Arctic waters and can break through sea ice up to 17.78cm thick in order to breathe. Though they can grow up to approximately 18 meters they are still able to leap entirely out of the water.

The bowhead whale is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.


Record: loudest land mammal for its size

Winner: howler monkey (Alouatta)

Infant black howler monkey in Costa Rica. © Lorraine Logan
Infant black howler monkey in Costa Rica. © Lorraine Logan

The loudest land animal for its size is the howler monkey, whose cries can reach over an impressive 88dB! That is 11 decibels per kilogram of its body mass. Their voices carry for 3 to 5 km (2 to 3 miles) and can be heard at dusk, at dawn, and during rainstorms.

There are 15 species of howler monkey, some of which are split into subspecies.


Record: most heavily trafficked mammal

Winner: pangolin (Pholidota)

Temminck's ground pangolin foraging during a soft release from the Rhino Revolution rehabilitation facility in South Africa. This pangolin was saved from poachers in an anti-poaching sting operation. © naturepl.com/Neil Aldridge/WWF
Temminck’s ground pangolin foraging during a soft release from the Rhino Revolution rehabilitation facility in South Africa. This pangolin was saved from poachers in an anti-poaching sting operation. © naturepl.com/Neil Aldridge/WWF

This is not a record you would want to hold – pangolins are the most heavily trafficked wild mammals in the world. Over the past decade, it is estimated that over a million pangolins have been illegally taken from the wild to feed demand in China and Vietnam.

Though international commercial trade in all eight pangolin species is banned, this has not halted the illegal trade in these species. WWF, together with TRAFFIC, is working in Asia and Africa to combat wildlife crime.

On the IUCN Red List, three of the eight species of pangolin are listed as Critically Endangered, three as Endangered and two as Vulnerable.


Record: world’s toughest animal

Winner: tardigrade (Tardigrada)

3D rendered illustration of a tardigrade (also known as water bear). © Shutter stock/3Dstock/WWF-International
3D rendered illustration of a tardigrade (also known as water bear). © Shutter stock/3Dstock/WWF-International

Tardigrades are only the size of a single celled organism, but they are far stronger than appearances suggest. These tiny water dwelling creatures can survive temperatures as high as 150°c and as low as -200°c. They have even been known to survive in the vacuum of space.


Record: sleepiest animal

Winner: koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)

An Australian koala sleeping in a gum tree. © Shutterstock/Spill Photography/WWF
An Australian koala sleeping in a gum tree. © Shutterstock/Spill Photography/WWF

This Australian icon sleeps for 20-22 hours each day, making it the sleepiest creature in the animal kingdom. When awake they manage to eat up to one kilogram of eucalyptus leaves a day. The bushfires last year devastated some of their key habitat. WWF is working alongside local communities to restore what has been lost.

The koala is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.


Record: fastest punch

Winner: peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus)

Peacock mantis shrimp, also known as the harlequin mantis shrimp. New Britain, Papua New Guinea. © Jürgen Freund/ WWF
Peacock mantis shrimp, also known as the harlequin mantis shrimp. New Britain, Papua New Guinea. © Jürgen Freund/WWF

Mantis shrimps are the fastest punchers in the animal kingdom, capable of moving their club-like front limbs at 80km/hr to smash apart the shells of molluscs and other crustaceans. Though it grows no more than 18cm long and only weighs approximately 0.6kg, it punches with a force roughly 100 times that of its weight.


Record: fastest running animal

Winner: cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)

A running cheetah. © Martin Harvey/WWF
A running cheetah. © Martin Harvey/WWF

The cheetah is the fastest running animal in the world and can attain speeds of around 70 miles per hour (120km). Though a cheetah can accelerate from 0-68mph in just three seconds, most of their chases last less than a minute.


Record: fastest flying bird (in a dive)

Winner: peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)

An adult peregrine falcon. © Sanchez & Lope/WWF
An adult peregrine falcon. © Sanchez & Lope/WWF
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One of the world’s most widespread birds of prey, the peregrine falcon can dive at speeds of up to 200mph. They hunt their prey from above, before launching themselves into a downwards dive to reach their prey. The peregrine falcon can be found on every continent except Antarctica.


WWF:

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries.

WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

Mark Wright: 

Mark has been a part of the WWF network for over 15 years in a variety of roles including Conservation Science Adviser leading the Africa team, and heading up their work on Borneo and the Eastern Himalayas.  He now leads our Science team.

Mark has a background in zoology as well as a PhD in applied entomology. He has a soft spot for chameleons and has loved stumbling across them in the wild. 

As well as his work for WWF, he has undertaken long-term development work for the likes of VSO, Save the Children, the British government and in support of the UN in more than 30 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, including long-term assignments in Tanzania, Togo, Belize, Cambodia and Suriname.

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