What makes an animal tough? Animals are considered tough for their ability to withstand harsh conditions or difficult situations. Often, they have a unique adaptation that allows them to take on these challenges.
The animals on this list are considered tough for a variety of reasons - from how well they can defend themselves against larger predators to their ability to survive extreme temperatures. You may be surprised by which animals are considered the toughest creatures on earth! Discover why they made the list.
Toughest Animal for Surviving Extreme Altitude:
Mountain Goat - Lives at Altitudes of 13,000+ Feet
Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) survive at extreme altitudes of over 13,000 feet. They often live in alpine regions, such as the Rocky Mountains, the Cascade Mountains, and Alaska’s Chugach Mountains.
The hooves of a mountain goat have two toes that spread out giving them balance as they climb slippery, steep rocks. A rough pad on the bottom of each toe gives them traction as they climb. A mountain goat is capable of jumping 12 feet to get from one rock to another!
Mountain goats are listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, although they are believed to be getting smaller in size over time due to the effects of global warming.
Toughest Animal for Surviving Extreme Cold:
Arctic Fox - Can Live at 58 Degrees Below Zero
The Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), aka a polar fox, lives on the frozen tundra of the Arctic in the northern hemisphere. This tough fox survives in an environment where temperatures drop to 58 degrees below zero and the winds can get up to 50 or 60 mph.
An Arctic fox has a bright white coat of thick fur designed to trap air, so it has a constant supply of body heat. It uses its four strong paws to create a burrow so it has a warm place to sleep.
The conservation status of these foxes overall is least concern. However, specific populations in some of the Nordic countries are critically endangered.
Learn more about the Arctic fox, which does not hibernate, here.
Toughest Animal for Surviving Extreme Heat:
Bactrian Camel - Lives in 100+ Degrees
The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) lives in the extremely hot temperatures of the Gobi Desert in Central Asia. These deserts see temperatures of more than100 degrees in the summertime.
A Bactrian camel must drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. It can drink up to 30 gallons of water in just 13 minutes! Bactrian camels don’t release much sweat, so they can conserve water. These camels have two humps of stored fat that can convert into food and water as needed (as opposed to the dromedary camel, with only one hump). They can live for six or seven months without having to refill their water supply.
The conservation status of Bactrian camels is critically endangered. Their numbers are decreasing because of habitat loss due to mining and other land development.
Learn more about Bactrian camels - which are split into two species, domesticated and wild.
Toughest Animal for Surviving Without Water:
Giraffe - Can Live Up to 3 Weeks Without Drinking Water
When you think of a tough animal, a giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) may not be the first creature that leaps to mind. But a giraffe can survive up to three weeks without drinking water. Giraffes live in Africa on the savanna where it’s hot throughout the year. They eat moisture-filled leaves from Acacia trees which supply giraffes with most of the water they need.
Male giraffes can grow to be 18 feet tall while adult females are about 14 feet tall. It’s difficult for them to bend down to drink from a stream. When they do, they’re vulnerable to predators. So, their ability to go a long time without getting water from a stream keeps them safe. The conservation status of giraffes is vulnerable due to loss of habitat and poaching.
Read more about giraffes, which can run at 30 mph to escape predators, here.
Toughest Animal for Surviving Without Food:
Crocodile - Can Survive 3 Years Without Eating
Crocodiles (subfamily Crocodylinae) live in the tropical areas of Asia, Africa, North America, and Australia. Crocs are tough animals because they can survive for up to three years without eating. These reptiles have a very slow metabolism and can float for a long time without moving. In extreme cases, they seem to be able to go dormant and live off of their own tissues for long periods.
Learn more about the semi-aquatic crocodile, which can live in freshwater, saltwater, and estuaries.
Toughest Animal for Protecting Itself:
Honey Badger - Fights Off Large Predators
A honey badger is about three feet long and weighs between 13 and 30 pounds. It has a short, sturdy body with long claws on its front feet. It uses these claws to dig holes and fight predators. This tough mammal has sharp teeth and the ability to whirl around to bite a predator that has grabbed it. Furthermore, a honey badger can release an odor powerful enough to make a predator retreat. The conservation status of honey badgers is least concern.
Not surprisingly, badgers are related to skunks. Find out more about badgers here.
Toughest Animal for Hunting Skills:
Jaguar - Can Pull a 500 Pound Deer into a Tree
A jaguar (Panthera onca) is not the biggest cat in the world, but it’s certainly the toughest. After capturing and killing a 500-pound deer, this cat can drag the deer’s body up a tree to have dinner on its favorite branch.
Jaguars live in the tropical rainforests, savannas, and grasslands of South and Central America. They can grow to six feet in length and weigh up to 250 pounds.
The conservation status of jaguars is near threatened. Their population is decreasing due to loss of habitat.
Discover more about jaguars, whose name means 'he who kills with one leap.'
Toughest Animal for Toxicity:
Black Mamba - Venom is One of Most Toxic on Earth
The Black mamba snake (Dendroaspis polylepis) makes the list of the toughest animals because of its deadly venom. It’s referred to as the world’s deadliest snake.
This snake lives in the southern and eastern parts of Africa. When attacked, a Black mamba raises a third of its body off the ground, spreads its neck hood, and opens its black mouth. If this doesn’t scare off a predator such as an owl, vulture, or mongoose, the snake will strike. However, instead of striking just once, this snake strikes many times to make sure a large amount of venom goes into its attacker. This snake’s venom kills a predator within 20 minutes.
The conservation status of the Black mamba is least concern.
Toughest Animal for Relative Strength:
Dung Beetle - Can Push an Object More Than 200 Times Its Weight
A Dung beetle (Scarabaeus viettei) weighs less than 3.5 ounces and measures just three or four inches, but it can move a ball of dung (poop) that’s 200 times its own weight.
This insect lives on every continent except for Antarctica. They can survive in deserts and forests. These insects find a pile of dung, roll it to another area and bury it, then they eat the dung or lay eggs in it.
While it may seem like a gross role to play, removing the dung of animals is important to keep land clean and free of pests. The conservation status of Dung beetles is 'not in danger of extinction.
Read more about beetles here, which have various strengths and unique skills, here.
Toughest Animal for Brute Strength:
Gorilla - 20 Times Stronger Than a Human
Scientists believe gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) have 20 times the strength of an adult man. These animals can be four to six feet tall and weigh up to 440 pounds.
Gorillas live in the forests of Africa, specifically the Congo Basin. They’re normally gentle animals, but if one male gorilla enters another male’s territory, it can end in a vicious fight between them.
The conservation status of gorillas is endangered. Habitat destruction and poaching are two reasons why they’re numbers have fallen, but many gorillas are now protected in Africa’s national parks.
Read more about gorillas, whose DNA is 98% the same as humans.