Tall & Tiny – Nature’s Extremes


Tremendously tall – or ridiculously small: nature never ceases to surprise. In Africa, we meet the largest birds in the world, ostriches, so massive they can’t even fly; and our planet’s tallest mammals, giraffes, that can stretch their necks to reach leaves up to seven metres high in the treetops.

The smallest creatures often rely on power in numbers. When termites join forces in their thousands, they can defend their nests against invaders many times larger themselves.

Sometimes, tiny invaders can do unspeakable damage, especially when they mass in great numbers. From time to time, Africanized bees, also known as killer bees – a name that bespeaks their terrible reputation – form angry swarms. If they discover a weak hive, they launch a full attack, and take over. Tiny bees – but with enormous effects.

The Earth’s largest animal can be just as hard to see as some of the smallest, because it is so rare.  The blue whale is a record-breaking size – nearly thirty metres in length – and a record-breaking weight – nearly 190 tons, making it an awe-inspiring sight to behold for those lucky enough to see one.

Evolution helps animals, big and small, deal with threats to their survival in novel ways. It can even help an animal alter its dimensions to suit the environment. Take the female Diamondback terrapin of North America. These greedy little turtles have quickly learned that the bait inside commercial crab traps is a tasty treat. But there is one fatal drawback – some of the terrapins are too big to exit the mesh cages again! Many drown. One single commercial crab trap was found with ninety dead turtles inside!

Time for an upsize. The threat of death by crab trap now seems to be driving Diamond back terrapin evolution. Over just a few generations, the growth rate and size of the terrapins is increasing. The result? They become too large to even attempt to enter the traps. The ‘upsize’ genes have spread across populations at such a speed that biologists are astounded.

From the smallest of their species, like the aptly named fairy penguin of southern Australia; to the smallest of all species, including microscopic organisms that glow in the dark. The natural world is full of record-breaking creatures! Plants and fungi are just as diverse. There’s the Cacti with needles that grow nearly 35 centimetres per year and petite little fungi, that weave huge, hidden, nets of mycelia right beneath our feet.

Meet the big and the tiny in this round-the-world-tour of massive proportions.