Large and in Charge

By Matt Seek | illustrations by Mark Raithel | February 2, 2014
From Xplor: February/March 2014

These super-sized species are Missouri's biggest. Period. Being gigantic often means being the toughest. That helps these bulky brutes in nature's battles for food, territory, rank, and finding mates.

Tougher Than a Tank

Male Hercules beetles use their massive horns in epic fights for females. Each beetle’s horns are unique — and grow based on what they ate as babies. Missouri’s biggest beetle is also the strongest animal on Earth (pound for pound), lifting up to 850 times its weight. If you were as strong as a Hercules beetle, you could lift seven school buses! That’s a lot of punch for a beetle that’s only as long as your pinkie.

Rack Attack

Elk are Missouri’s most massive mammals, with males tipping the scales at 600 to 1,000 pounds. They use their huge racks to do battle with other bulls to gain control of the herd. A big rack also signals to cows (female elk) that a bull knows where to find food, which is what herd survival is all about.

Fearless Faker

The bullsnake holds the record for largest snake in Missouri, growing up to 6 feet long. When danger is near, a bullsnake imitates the venomous western diamondback rattler by moving into an S-curve shape, vibrating its tail, and hissing out a convincing rattling sound. Bullsnakes kill their prey by constriction — a tight hug that may be their prey’s last.

Super-Sized Salamander

Beware! If you’re a crayfish chillin’ in an Ozark stream, stay away from the shadows. The last thing you’ll see before disappearing into the cavernous mouth of Missouri’s largest salamander is a pair of beady eyes lunging from under a big rock. Chomp! A hellbender’s gullet is gigantic — it can swallow crayfish almost half the salamander’s size. Growing to 2 feet long, the hellbender is one slippery giant that doesn’t need good looks to get by.

Underwater Incredible Hulk

The biggest bucking bronco of the water world, alligator gar can reach 8 feet long and a whopping 300 pounds. The alligator gar is wrapped in armor-like scales that are so tough Native Americans used them as arrowheads. This toothy titanic has roughly 40 teeth, with a double row on its upper jaw. A gar holds its prey until it’s almost lifeless. Then, in a sudden blast, the gar swims in fast, tight circles to position and swallow its lunch whole.

Gargantuan Glug-Fest

The pelican’s colossal clamper steals the show. Imagine nabbing a large fish, tossing it into the air, and swallowing it in one gulp without using your hands! Pelicans fish in groups, too. They beat the water with their large wings to drive fish into the shallows and then scoop them up with their brilliant bills. A pelican’s stretchy, orange gular sac can slosh up to 3 gallons of water as the bird gobbles down lunch.

Nature's Jumbo Jets

Pelicans are the heavyweights of the feathered world. With wingspans up to 10 feet, these behemoths can soar up to 10,000 feet as they migrate through Missouri in spring and fall. A pelican’s body is taller than most fourth graders, and these hefty feathered flappers are heavier than a pile of school backpacks.

And More...

This Issue's Staff

David Besenger
Brett Dufur
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Regina Knauer
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
Tim Smith
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White