In the constant war between predator and prey, size and strength can be a decisive factor to help an animal survive the cruel whims of nature. However, there are several ways to measure strength, including lifting strength, bite strength, kick strength, and overall power.
For the purpose of this article, we will be defining strength in absolute terms, not in strength relative to body size (which would make insects some of the most powerful animals on the planet). Note that this article also lists animals in their general groups. A group may be defined as an entire order or just an individual species.
Exerts Most Absolute Force: Whales
Whales can claim the title of the strongest creature on the planet simply due to their enormous size. Although unable to lift, grip, or kick, they do need an enormous amount of force to power their massive bodies through the water. This movement is facilitated by two large muscle groups near their tail: the epaxial muscles for the upstroke and the hypaxial muscles for the downstroke. The blue whale can generate a maximum force of around 60 kilonewtons (a single kilonewton is enough force to accelerate a 1,000-kilogram (~2,200-pound) object at a rate of one meter per second).
Read more about the powerful, yet graceful blue whale here.
Most Powerful Land Animal: Elephants
Elephants are extremely powerful creatures, with size and strength varying among species. The African bush elephant holds the distinction of being the largest land animal on the planet. It has a maximum shoulder height of 12 feet and weighs up to 12,000 pounds. The closely related Asian elephant can weigh around 11,000 pounds.
The trunk is the elephant’s main tactile instrument. It is composed of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels with minimal amounts of fat and bone. The typical Asian elephant has 100,000 muscles and tendons arranged along the length of the trunk. This enables it to lift almost 800 pounds with relative ease — or about the size of a large tree. The elephant’s trunk has many potential uses, including feeding, touching, cleaning, arranging objects, and communication with others. It also has the ability to hold approximately two gallons of water at a time.
The elephant’s body is also specially adapted for strength. Whereas most mammals have small bone cavities, elephants have very dense bones that allow them to perform all kinds of impressive acts like standing on their hind legs. This allows some species to carry up to 14,000 pounds!
Learn more about the different species on the elephant encyclopedia page.
Strongest Primate: Gorillas
By any metric, the gorilla is one of the strongest animals on the planet. With such muscular and elongated arms, it is at least six times stronger than the average human. Its bite can also generate approximately 1,300 pounds of pressure per square inch. As the largest primate, a typical male gorilla can weigh anywhere between 200 and 500 pounds. Although largely herbivorous and not very aggressive, its intimidating display can scare off even the most dangerous animals.
Find out more about the intelligent and mighty gorilla.
Most Powerful Biter: Crocodiles
The crocodile has perhaps the strongest biting force on the planet. With its powerful jaws, the creature can instantly kill almost any prey by exerting up to 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch (depending on the species). For comparison’s sake, a human can only bite with around 100 pounds per square inch. The key to the crocodile’s remarkable strength is its enormous jaw muscles. However, this ability does have one weakness: their mouths exhibit very little opening strength. It’s possible to keep the jaws clamped down with a rubber band.
Read more about the sneaky, strong crocodile.
Massively Strong: Bears
The bear is a familiar but intimidating presence throughout many of the world’s parks and ecosystems. They are swathed in huge muscles and powerful claws that enable them to dig and hunt with incredible expertise. Among all bear species, both the grizzly bear and polar bear take the crown as the strongest. Weighing more than around 800 pounds — the maximum recorded size is twice that figure — an individual male grizzly is equivalent to around five humans in strength ... and even more when enraged. The key to the grizzly bear’s strength is the large mass of muscles attached directly to its backbone. This gives the bear a rounded, humped appearance. Polar bears are also massively strong, potentially weighing up to 1,600 pounds. They can also chomp down at around 1,200 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Find out more about how strength in bear species varies here.
Forceful Hunter: Tigers
The tiger is one of the largest carnivores in the world, eclipsed only by the polar and grizzly bears. The most intimidating species, the Siberian tiger, can potentially weigh up to 800 pounds. As solitary hunters, tigers can swim, leap, and take down prey with amazing force. And unlike many other carnivores, it can easily stand and attack on its hind legs. These remarkable abilities are enabled by the tiger’s incredibly dense muscular structure. It is estimated that their bite can exert around 1,000 pounds of force per square inch.
Learn more about the beautiful, yet dangerous tiger.
Surprisingly Strong Herbivore: Hippopotamuses
At first glance, the hippopotamus may seem like a placid, lumbering, veggie-munching softy, but when disturbed, it is one of the most dangerous creatures in the animal kingdom. To understand just how dangerous they are, it is necessary to fully appreciate the hippo’s sheer size. The average hippo can weigh anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds, and scientists have recorded some individuals with twice that weight. With the ability to open its mouth at a 180-degree angle, the hippopotamus has a bite that exerts around 1,800 pounds of force per square inch. It is a creature that can tussle with even the fiercest predators.
Learn more about the hippopotamus here.
Intense Defensive Strength: Rhinoceros
The rhinoceros is another fearsome herbivore with a penchant for rather violent displays of self-defense. Although under threat by humans, the white rhino is the world's largest rhino species at around 13 feet long and weighing 5,000 pounds — sometimes much more. They can also make a harrowing charge of 30 to 40 mph. Although not particularly aggressive, these strong creatures will defend their territory from threats, and they have been known to rock or tip over entire vehicles. Their intimidating horn is composed of keratin — the same substance as hair, fingernails, and feathers.
Find out more interesting rhinoceros facts here!
Fiercely Strong Feline: Jaguars
The jaguar is a powerful cat native to an enormous range throughout Central and South America. Weighing up to 350 pounds at its maximum, the jaguar is not the largest cat, but with a powerful bite force of approximately 1,500 pounds per square inch, it only needs one quick strike to subdue its prey. The jaguar can open its mouth wide and pierce the skull or armored shell with its enormous teeth. It also has the strength to drag a huge carcass about equal to its own body size up into the trees. Jaguars will feed on almost anything, including deer, capybaras, boars, primates, and ungulates.
Read more about the hunting skills of the jaguar.
Unexpectedly Powerful Beast: Bovines
Bovines are defined as a group of ungulates that includes bison, buffalo, yaks, and cattle. Due to their immense strength, bovines were domesticated by humans thousands of years ago for the purpose of towing carts, plows, and other materials. As one of the largest bovines, the African buffalo is an immense beast that can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. When they feel threatened, buffaloes have been known to tip over large vehicles or charge at animals or people. With their powerful muscles, intimidating horns, and defensive posture, more people die of bovine attacks every year than almost any other animal.
Read more about the mighty buffalo here.