The Olympics is a wonderful event that draws nations together. It allows people from all across the world to demonstrate their talents and hard work. The games consist of the best of the best competing to find out who is the fastest and strongest. There is no doubt that the human body is amazing, but in the animal kingdom, there are many "Olympic champions" as well.
When discussing which animal deserves the gold medal, there are some things to keep in mind. First of all, many people automatically think of the more popular animals when determining which is the best. Secondly, it is important to remember that there are always exceptions to the rules, and for most of this article, only the averages are taken into consideration, not the very extremes.
It is well known that the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph. Yet it is the Peregrine falcon that can really put on some speed. This raptor can reach up to 200 mph when it dives straight down while hunting prey. Suddenly, the cheetah doesn't seem quite so fast anymore.
There is actually much argument about which animal is the slowest. If the vote was based on popularity, then the three-toed sloth would win, moving at a whopping 1.2 mph. This is so slow that algae are able to grow in its fur without being disturbed. However, there are many aquatic-dwelling animals such as corals and clams that live a very sedentary life and barely move at all unless you count being swept along by an ocean current. So for this medal, you can be the judge.
If you ask most young children what the largest animal is, they will probably say the elephant. While it is true that an African elephant bull (male) can reach 16,500 pounds and grow to be up to 13 feet tall at the shoulder, this elephant only takes the silver medal. It is the blue whale, weighing in at 250,000 pounds and averaging more than 100 feet in length, that wins the gold. The blue whale is so large that it is bigger than the largest of dinosaurs. If it were brought out on land, it would literally collapse under its own body weight.
The smallest animal is a bit less predictable. The amoeba, a single-celled protozoan, is so tiny a microscope is needed in order to see it. While the amoeba is considered an animal, some people don't think they should count toward the smallest animal in the world and would instead give the gold medal to the Fairyfly parasitic wasp, which measures a measly 0.1 mm to 0.17 mm long.
Then there is the longest living animal. While elephants can live up to 60 years, and some parrots can live to be up to 100 years old, the Aldabra tortoise can reach ages of 175 to 200 years. Incredible as that is, there was a giant clam discovered off the coast of Iceland that is believed to be more than 400 years old! Comparing that to the human lifespan of only 80 to 110 years, suddenly we might not feel so old anymore. However, we should be grateful for the long lives we do enjoy compared to the small, aquatic gastrotrich which lives, on average, only three days.
The animal that jumps the farthest may be a bit of a surprise for you. While the snow leopard can jump 50 feet, and the red kangaroo can jump 40 feet, it is the tiny flea that wins in this tournament. The flea can jump more than 200 times its own body length, which would be similar to a person jumping over a seven-story building. Definitely more impressive than our paltry three-foot jumps.
And last but certainly not least is my favorite: the strongest animal in the world. Able to carry more than 850 times its own body weight is the Rhinoceros beetle. To give you an idea of how impressive this insect is, it would be the same as a 150-pound human being able to lift approximately 134,000 pounds.
So as you can see, even though humans are amazing, animals can be even more so. You can view many animal champions at Lee Richardson Zoo. We house the pronghorn, which is the fastest land animal in North America and capable of running up to 60 mph. The American Bison is the largest land animal in North America, with the males weighing up to 2,000 pounds and standing more than six feet at the shoulder. We also have jumping snow leopards and huge African elephants. With all these amazing animal athletes just a short trip away, you don't need to travel to Vancouver to witness feats of incredible strength and skill. You just need to visit your own Lee Richardson Zoo.