In another article, we discussed which animal was the largest carnivore in the world. The winner in that scenario was an aquatic animal—the blue whale. This begs the question, “What is the world’s largest land carnivore?” Read on to learn how the answer may be up for debate.
What are carnivores? Most people think first of members of the order Carnivora, which comprises flesh-eating, placental mammals. Though this order includes bears, tigers, lions, dogs, and cats, not all these animals are pure carnivores. The giant panda is a herbivore, while most bears (except polar bears) are omnivores.
A carnivore is any plant or animal that feeds on the flesh of animals. Carnivores can be scavengers or hunters, though these distinctions are not firm. Carnivorousness itself is more of a spectrum: very few, if any, carnivores feed on meat alone. Polar bears get over 90% of their nutrients from animals, while humans and omnivorous bears get under 30%.
What Makes a Land Carnivore
A land carnivore, otherwise known as a terrestrial carnivore, is a carnivore that spends much of its life on land. Other species may spend most or all of their lives in water and are aquatic animals. However, some terrestrial animals spend a great deal of time in the water and may be considered semiaquatic. Terrestrial animals tend to be more intelligent and developed than aquatic species.
Semiaquatic carnivores spend a great deal of time in the water, though they are labeled terrestrial. This includes walruses (4,400 pounds), saltwater crocodiles (3,300 pounds), and elephant seals (up to 11,000 pounds) which are larger than other terrestrial carnivores, including bears.
Though these animals are larger than other terrestrial carnivores, we will only consider those animals that can survive outside of their saltwater habitat as land animals. Walruses, elephant seals, and saltwater crocodiles cannot survive away from their watery habitats, while polar bears can (and have been forced to, at times, due to climate change.)
Largest Land Carnivore: Kodiak vs. Polar Bear
After eliminating terrestrial species unable to survive away from aquatic habitats, there are two potential candidates from the order Carnivora: the Kodiak bear and the polar bear.
The Kodiak bear is a subspecies of the brown bear that lives in the Kodiak archipelago off the coast of Alaska. It has a blonde to nearly orange coat. Apart from berries and various vegetation, the Kodiak will scavenge dead animals early after emerging from hibernation. When salmon begin to spawn, the Kodiak bear will feed primarily on those. Kodiak males weigh from 600 to 1,400 pounds and measure an average of 4.3 feet at the shoulder. A large Kodiak can reach a height of 9.8 feet when standing. The heaviest wild Kodiak on record weighed over 1,600 pounds, while the heaviest in captivity weighed 2,130 pounds at death.
The polar bear is a marine mammal because it spends much of its life hunting and swimming in arctic waters, but it is actually a land animal. Its main prey are seals, which it pursues in those cold waters. Its coat appears white, but the hairs are actually translucent, and it has wide paws for swimming and a thick, blubbery hide underneath its coat. Adult male polar bears weigh 770 to 1,540 pounds, stand about 5 feet at the shoulder, and can measure as long as 9 feet, 10 inches. The largest wild polar bear on record weighed 2,209 pounds and stood 11 feet 1 inch tall when mounted for display.
The Largest Land Carnivore in the World
Many people consider the polar bear the world’s largest land carnivore, and the numbers seem to bear that out. Polar bears are larger than the Kodiak equivalents, but just barely. Walruses, elephant seals, and saltwater crocodiles are larger but cannot survive beyond their aquatic habitats for extended periods and are therefore not considered in this context.
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