After the extinction of the dinosaurs, approximately 66 million years ago, the rise of mammals has begun. There were mammals on earth before that date, but after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event (a mass extinction of some three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth, including all non-avian dinosaurs), mammals took over the medium- to large-sized ecological niches. Some of these mammals reached enormous sizes, and usually, they were larger than today’s counterparts (with the exception of whales). Here are some of the largest prehistoric mammals ever known.


South American short-faced bear

The largest known terrestrial mammalian carnivoran of all time was (possibly) the South American short-faced bear (Arctotherium) source 1 source 2. Big males of this species would have weighed more than 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) and standing at least 11 feet (3.4 meters) tall on the hind-limbs. A specimen from Buenos Aires shows an individual estimated, using the humerus, to weigh between 983 and 2,042 kg (2,167 and 4,502 lb), though the authors consider the upper limit as improbable and say that 1,588 kg (3,501 lb) is more likely.

Largest prehistoric mammals: South American giant short faced bear
The largest prehistoric mammals – South American giant short-faced bear versus human size comparison. Photo credit: Soibelzon, Schubert, Journal of Paleontology.

Previously, the Andrewsarchus was declared as the largest terrestrial mammalian carnivore known on the basis of the length of the skull. In popular culture,‭ ‬especially at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries,‭ ‬Andrewsarchus has been presented as a huge predator (13-foot-long, one-ton meat-eater),‭ ‬similar in form to other quadrupedal meat-eating mammals,‭ ‬but powerfully built like a big cat or even a bear.‭

However, despite this reconstruction becoming very familiar in the public consciousness,‭ ‬paleontologists are far more cautious as so far only the skull of this animal is known.

The popular reconstruction is based upon the concept that for a long time Andrewsarchus was envisioned as a larger relative of Mesonyx,‭ ‬a meat-eating predator that is often described as wolf-like,‭ ‬although it actually appeared long before the emergence of true wolves.‭

Later interpretations of Andrewsarchus, however‭ (‬one of best known is a‭ ‬2009‭ ‬study by Michelle Spaulding,‭ ‬Maureen A.‭ ‬O’Leary, and John Gatesy‭) ‬have since concluded that Andrewsarchus probably isn’t that closely related to Mesonyx.‭ ‬In fact today Andrewsarchus has been widely considered to be closer to primitive hippos or even entelodonts (an extinct family of pig-like omnivores) due to the long jaws with wide cheekbones. Source


The heaviest known felid ever was the Ngandong tiger (Panthera tigris soloensis) with the largest specimen weighing up to 470 kg (1036 lb). Also, the largest saber-toothed Smilodon populator males might have reached 470 kg.

Largest prehistoric mammals: Ngandong tiger size comparison
The largest prehistoric mammals – Ngandong tiger size comparison (vs Amur tiger and Bengal tiger). The Ngandong tiger (Panthera tigris soloensis) is an extinct subspecies of tigers which lived in what is now the Sundaland region of Indonesia during the Pleistocene epoch. Fossils of P. t. soloensis have been found primarily in the village of Ngandong, hence the common name. Only seven fossils are known, making the study of the animal difficult. Heltler and Volmer (2007) estimated that a large male could potentially weigh up to 470 kilograms, heavier than the Bengal tiger, one of the largest and most powerful felines of all time. Although Raúl Valvert (2014) later estimated the straight length to be between 172 to 233 centimeters, while the length over the curves was estimated to be 258-350 cm. The minimum weight for females was estimated at 143 kg, although males can weigh up to 368 kg, with exceptional specimens weighing up to 400 kg. Photo:


The largest canid was Epicyon (“more than a dog”), a large, extinct, canid genus of the subfamily Borophaginae (“bone-crushing dogs”), native to North America. Stood at 37 inches tall (0.9 meters) at the shoulder, it was even bigger than the dire wolf (Canis dirus, “fearsome dog”), the largest wolf ever. Epicyon was about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and had an estimated weight of 150 lbs (68 kg). Some sources state 200-300 pounds (90-136 kg). It had a massive head and powerful jaws, giving its skull a lion-like shape rather than that of a wolf.

Largest prehistoric mammals: Epicyon vs human size comparison
The largest prehistoric mammals – Epicyon vs average tall human. Photo:
Largest prehistoric mammals: Epicyon vs Dire wolf vs Gray wolf
The largest prehistoric mammals – Size comparison: Epicyon vs Dire wolf vs Gray wolf vs 1.8 meters tall person.

The largest “bear dog” was Pseudocyon. They inhabited Eurasia and North America during the Miocene epoch living approximately 5.3 million years. The largest fossil find was of a mandible (F:AM 49247) founded in New Mexico. The mass estimate derived from the mandible was about 773 kg, representing a very large individual.

The largest known fossil hyena is the Pachycrocuta brevirostris, colloquially known as the giant hyena as it stood about 90-100 cm (35-39 in) at the shoulder and it is estimated to have averaged 110 kg (240 lb) in weight, approaching the size of a lioness, making it the largest known hyena.

Largest prehistoric mammals: Pachycrocuta brevirostris reconstruction
The largest prehistoric mammals – Pachycrocuta brevirostris reconstruction. Photo: Wikipedia

Elephants, mammoths, and mastodons

According to some sources including Wikipedia, the largest known land mammal ever was a proboscidian, Palaeoloxodon namadicus, or the Asian straight-tusked elephant that ranged throughout Pleistocene Asia, from India (where it was first discovered) to Japan. This animal was 5 meters (16 ft) tall at the shoulders and 22 tonnes (24 short tons) in weight.

Largest prehistoric mammals: African bush elephant vs Palaeoloxodon namadicus vs human size comparison.
The largest prehistoric mammals – African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) vs Palaeoloxodon namadicus vs 1.8-meter tall human size comparison.

What about mammoths? The largest individuals of the steppe mammoth of Eurasia (Mammuthus trogontherii) estimated to reach 4.5 meters (15 ft) at the shoulders. Larger than today’s largest land mammal, the African bush elephant, which can reach 4 meters at the shoulders, but smaller than the Palaeoloxodon namadicus.

Ground sloths – Megatherium

Megatherium (from the Greek mega, meaning “great”, and therion, “beast”) is an extinct genus of ground sloths endemic to South America that lived from the Early Pliocene through the end of the Pleistocene.

Megatherium americanum is one of the largest land mammals known to have existed, weighing up to 4 tonnes (4.4 short tons) and measuring up to 6 meters (20 ft) in length from head to tail. It was as big as modern elephants and would have only been exceeded in its time by a few species of mammoth.

The largest prehistoric mammals - Megatherium americanum skeleton
The largest prehistoric mammals – Megatherium americanum skeleton, Natural History Museum, London. By en:User:Ballista – from English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Even-toed ungulates

The largest known Even-toed ungulate (artiodactyl) was Hippopotamus gorgops with a length of 4.3 meters (14 feet) and a height of 2.1 meters (6.9 feet). With a weight of 3,900 kilograms (8,600 lb), it was much larger than its living relative, Hippopotamus amphibius. Today’s male hippopotamus adults average 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) in weight and they reach 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) at the shoulder.

The tallest ever even-toed ungulate is not extinct: it is the giraffe. With a height of up to 5.7 meters (18.7 feet), it is also the tallest living terrestrial animal.

Odd-toed ungulates

The largest known Odd-toed ungulate (perissodactyl), and the second-largest land mammal ever, was Indricotherium (also known as Paraceratherium). The exact size of Paraceratherium is unknown because of the incompleteness of the fossils. The largest individual known was estimated at 4.8 meters (16 feet) tall at the shoulders, 8.0 meters (26.2 feet) in length from nose to rump, and 16-17 t (18-19 tons) in weight.

Largest land mammals ever
Largest land mammals ever: Palaeoloxodon namadicus and Indricotherium transouralicım. Image:

Many sources, including Encyclopædia Britannica, claim that the Indricotherium was the largest land mammal ever. According to Britannica, it stood about 5.5 meters (18 feet) high at the shoulder, was 8 meters (26 feet) long, and weighed an estimated 30 tons, which is more than four times the weight of the modern elephant. If this sizing is true, this means it was even approaching the size of the giant sauropod dinosaurs that preceded it by over a hundred million years.

Largest prehistoric mammals: Indricotherium model at the Parco Natura Viva, Pastrengo, Veneto, Italy
The largest prehistoric mammals – Indricotherium model at the Parco Natura Viva, Pastrengo, Veneto, Italy. Photo: Spencer Wright on Flickr, CC BY 2.0 Link

There was also a giant rhinoceros (Elasmotherium). It was almost the size of a mammoth. The known specimens of E. sibiricum reach up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) in body length with shoulder heights over 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) while E. caucasicum reaches at least 5 meters (16 feet) in body length with an estimated mass of 3.6-4.5 tonnes (4-5 short tons).

Largest prehistoric mammals: Giant rhinoceros size comparison
The largest prehistoric mammals – Giant rhinoceros size comparison. Image: Wikipedia


The largest known primate of all time was Gigantopithecus blacki, standing 3 meters tall (10 ft) and weighing up to 540 kilograms (1,200 lb).

Largest prehistoric mammals: Gigantopithecus vs human size comparison
The largest prehistoric mammals – A comparison graph of a 1.8-meter-tall human male (almost 5′ 11″) in comparison to Gigantopithecus blacki (left) and G. giganteus (right): This graph is based on orangutan proportions while standing upright. Image: Wikipedia


The extant blue whale is the largest and heaviest animal known to have existed, it is bigger than any animal that lived on earth, including dinosaurs. They grow up to 112 ft (34 meters) in length and 190 t (210 short tons) in weight.

Some Pliocene age baleen whales (the Blue whale is also a baleen whale) were likely rivaled the modern blue whale in size – but they were still slightly smaller.

Blue whale and diver. Blue whale is the largest animal ever.
The largest mammal (also the largest animal) ever lived: Blue whale size compared to an average human. Photo:


M. Özgür Nevres

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