22 Animals With Big Heads (With Videos)

Animals with Big Heads
Fact Checked and Reviewed by: Mark Rhodes, Ph.D. - Wildlife Biologist
Dr. Mark Rhodes holds an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife along with a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology. He helps maintain our editorial standards of accuracy and quality. You can read more about Dr. Rhodes here.

You’ll find creatures of all shapes and sizes across the animal kingdom (and those are only the ones that have been discovered)! In this article, we’re going to highlight some of the animals with massive heads.

So, what are some of the animals with big heads?

Some animals have big heads in general, including blue whales and other whale species, elephants, bison, musk ox, hippos, rhinos, and bumphead parrotfish. Other animals have big heads relative to the size of their body, including tarsiers, insects, anglerfish, and koalas. These are just a few of the big-headed critters in the animal kingdom. 

Below, we’ll take a closer look at these animals with big heads, as well as the evolutionary reasons that these animals have bigger-than-average heads.

Antarctic Blue Whales

Of all the mammals in the world, the Antarctic blue whale has the biggest body and the biggest head. On average, the biggest species of blue whale measure around 110 feet from snout to fluke (that’s the two lobes of a whale’s tail).

For reference, 100 feet is the same as about 2.5 school buses! Plus, blue whales have a head that makes up around 25% of their total body length. Their skull’s have been measured at about 18 feet long.

Blue whales aren’t the only whale species with large heads, of course. The bowhead whale, for example, has a head that is 16.5 feet. The carnivorous sperm whale is also known for being a big mammal with an especially large head.

One hypothesis scientists have is that blue whales have big heads because of the size of their prey, which is primarily krill. Blue whales eat around 6 tons of these tiny critters every day, so their large mouths allow them to filter and gulp large quantities of krill at once.

Beluga Whales

While the blue whale has the largest head overall, beluga whales have a head that’s large compared to other toothed whale species. All toothed whales share the feature that makes the beluga whale’s head so big- the melon.

A whale’s melon is that rounded area in front of the blowhole. Whales use their melon to help them produce different sounds. It’s squishy, made up of fat, and changes shape depending on the sound that the whale is making.

Beluga whales make a wider range of sounds than the average whale or dolphin, which is the reason they’re often referred to as the “canary of the sea”. They use it to communicate with other beluga whales about things like migration and predators and hunt using echolocation.

Cycad Beetles and Other Insects

Insects are among one of the most diverse groups of critters in the animal kingdom, with some 900 thousand known species. They make up an estimated 80% of discovered animals in the world, so it’s no surprise that some of these insects have really big heads.

There are a lot of insects with big heads. Animals like leaf-cutter ants and termites have big, bulky mouthparts that make up half of their bodies.

The female cycad beetle from South America gets a special mention because it has a head that is over twice the size of its body. The average cycad beetle is around a little more than an inch long, with one-third its length being its body and the other two-thirds being made up of its head and mouthparts. This makes it the animal with the biggest head relative to the size of its body.

There are also insects that have heads that are wide compared to the size of their body, rather than long. This includes stalk-eyed flies, whose heads are twice as wide as their bodies are long.

Elephants

Elephants are the biggest living land animal, so it’s no surprise that they’re known for their massive heads. There are four species of elephant and while they all have big heads, it is the African savanna elephant that is the largest, followed by the African forest elephant, Asian elephant, and Bornean elephants.

The head of the elephant is made up of its skull, massive ears, and its large trunk. Researchers say the average elephant head weighs around 400kg or 881 pounds.

African savanna elephants are the biggest of the four species. Forest elephants, by contrast, are smaller. This is actually an advantage because they roam through the trees, so their size doesn’t restrict their movements. Plus, their tusks grow outward instead of inward and their ears are bigger than those of Asian elephants.

Owls

There are more than 250 species of owl that have been discovered, all of them with large heads. They live on every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica.

There are two reasons that owls have big heads. First, as owls grow, their blood vessels stay the same size, whereas blood vessels in humans get thinner as their body spreads out. With their blood vessels being the same size, the owl has a large neck to support that.

Second, owls are predatory birds. Their eyes are positioned on the front of their face rather than on the sides, which gives them much better vision. There is even a type of owl that can see with its eyes closed!

Bison

Bison is another land animal that has a pretty big head because of the size of its body. Males of this species are almost twice the size of females and they can weigh as much as a ton (that’s 2,000 pounds)!

Bison are grazing animals native to North America and Europe, both areas where it gets cold. As migratory animals, they seek out warmer weather during the winter. However, they have also developed features that help them in the snow.

One of these features is thick fur that helps them keep warm. This is especially important for young bison that are most susceptible to death in the winter months.

Their large heads also serve a purpose in the winter, as bison are often observed using their heads to clear snow from the ground for grazing. They have especially thick skulls that weigh an estimated 15-20 pounds alone, before you add the weight of their horns, fur, flesh, and skin. The large neck and shoulder muscles needed to hold up a buffalo head are a testament to how heavy it is.

Musk Ox

Even though musk ox shares some physical traits with bison, they are actually closer related to animals like sheep and goats and belong to the family Caprinae. They also live in the Arctic, which is the reason for their especially long coat.

One of the things that musk ox do share with bison is an especially large head. This is important because musk ox may not be able to outrun their natural predators like bears and wolves, particularly with their bulky bodies and shorter legs.

Instead, musk ox uses their big head, thick skull, and horns to fight off predators. Like deer, musk ox also uses their horns for displays of dominance when they fight with other males or are trying to attract a mate.

Anglerfish

The anglerfish have a head that is big relative to the size of its body. While they don’t look that big at first glance, this is just the anglerfish’s way of getting prey to come closer.

Anglerfish eat small crustaceans and small fish. They get them to come close by keeping their dorsal fin spine on display, which makes their head look a lot smaller than it actually is.

The reason an anglerfish’s head is so large is because of its massive jaws. When fish or crustacean gets too close, they quickly open their jaws and tear into their prey.

The female anglerfish is actually a lot bigger than the males of the species. Females are also the only anglerfish that have the dorsal fin spine that makes it so easy to attract food.

Instead, the smaller males live as parasites and attach themselves to female anglerfish. Because of the small size of males, there may be around 5-6 anglerfish living on a single female. Over time, they actually fuse together and share a bloodstream, while the male loses his eyes and other organs and becomes part of the female anglerfish.

This animal’s head makes up most of its body once it opens its jaws. The biggest anglerfish are known to reach more than three feet in length and might weigh as much as 110 pounds.

Octopuses

Octopuses are known for their eight legs and bulbous heads. Despite this, they manage to move quite gracefully through the ocean.

According to the research, octopuses are one of the smartest invertebrates that have been discovered (their relatives, cuttlefish, are really smart, too!). However, their big brain isn’t necessarily the reason that their heads are so large.

The reason an octopus has such a big head might come down to the many organs that it has inside. An octopus has one big, donut-shaped brain that controls the central nervous system, but it also has eight smaller brains that control each of its arms.

In addition to all the brains, octopuses have three hearts. Their organs are housed in a mantle, which is located behind the head and opposite their arms.

Hippopotamuses

At first glance, a hippotamus doesn’t really look like a threat. They are known for their round shape and semi-aquatic lifestyle. While you’re likely to see hippopotamuses in the river, however, you might be surprised to learn that they don’t really swim- they actually float!

Additionally, while they don’t necessarily look it, hippopotamuses are considered the most dangerous mammal in the world. They have incredibly sharp teeth and strong jaws that let them crunch through vegetation- like an entire watermelon! With their large size, powerful jaws, and aggressive demeanor, hippos end up killing an estimated 500 people every year in Africa.

The reason hippopotamuses have big heads is their overall size and their jaw strength. For starters, the average female hippo weighs 3,000 pounds, while the average male hippo can weigh anywhere from 3,500-9,920 pounds. They also stand at about 5 feet tall, which is just a little shorter than the average human.

While scientists don’t know exactly how much a hippo head weighs, it is known that they are massive. The average hippo skull is 1 foot, 8 inches high, and more than 2 feet across.

Plus, this is the measurement before a hippo opens its massive jaw. When you consider all the muscles needed to help a hippo use its powerful jaw, it only makes sense that it’d need a bigger head to have room for all these muscles.

Rhinoceroses

Like the hippopotamus and elephant, the rhinoceros is one of those huge mammals you can find roaming hotter climates in Africa and Asia. Their huge size explains their massive head. 

The biggest rhinos are white rhinos and they can easily weigh 7,500 pounds or more. Even smaller Sumatran rhinos weigh around 1,400 pounds. If you consider the fact that their skull is about 1/8 of their body, it could even be said that a rhinoceros’ head likely weighs close to the size of a small horse. 

One of the reasons for a rhino’s head being so large, aside from being proportionate to its body, is that it must support the rhino’s horn. The animal’s horn is important for everything from defense to parenting to foraging.

Polar Bears and Grizzly Bears

Polar bears are the largest terrestrial carnivore, while grizzly bears (or North American brown bears) are the second largest. These two bears are sister species because of their genetic similarity. Researchers believe polar bears may have evolved from grizzly bears as they became white to camouflage themselves in the snowy terrain they live in.

Even though polar bears are bigger than grizzly bears, the grizzly bear has a bigger head for its body. Polar bears still have big heads because of their massive size. Males are bigger and are usually 8-10 feet long and weigh an average of 600-1200 pounds.

Grizzly bears are slightly smaller, with adult males weighing 400-600 pounds. However, their heads are proportionally larger because of their shape.

Polar bears have a longer, narrower snout and head shape to accommodate their long, sharp canine teeth. This adaptation is important because polar bears bite to kill. Despite their status as an arctic predator, however, polar bears are still one of the many endangered species in the arctic.

By contrast, grizzly bears are omnivorous so they have strong molars that let them grind plant matter or eat meat like fish, deer, or rodents. They have bigger, rounder faces because of the muscles needed to eat their varied diet.

While black bears also have big heads, they aren’t quite as big as the other two species. The average male black bear weighs around 250-300 pounds, making it the same size as female grizzly bears.

Something that bears share with humans is that bear cubs and babies have big heads for their body size. For humans, this happens because their brain stops physically growing at age 11 for females and 14 for males, even though they won’t stop mentally growing for quite some time.

Giant Pandas

While giant pandas aren’t as big as a polar bear or grizzly bear, they do get around the size of a North American black bear. They grow to about 4-6 feet long and males usually weigh around 250 pounds.

Inside of a giant panda’s head are giant jaw muscles, which help them chew through tough bamboo. Pandas are able to eat hard bamboo because of their powerful jaw muscles, which make it easy for them to grind down bamboo with their teeth.

This isn’t the only adaptation that pandas have for eating bamboo. They also have a sixth appendage on their paws. Pandas originally had five digits without an opposable thumb, but the sixth digit that evolved functions the same as a thumb in humans.

Shrews

Shrews have a head that is long for their body because of their especially long snout they use when foraging for food and digging burrows. There are 385 discovered species of shrews and some of them are even venomous.

Interestingly, researchers recently learned that shrews actually shrink the size of their head during the winter, and then it grows back in the summertime. This is significant shrinkage of up to 20%.

While the shrew’s other organs don’t shrink like this, they do shrink a little. It’s early still, but researchers believe this may be because shrews have trouble finding food in the winter, so shrinking their organs preserves energy and helps them survive during food shortages.

Tarsiers

Tarsiers are a very small species, many of them being only 3.5-6 inches tall when you exclude the length of their tail. Despite their small size, tarsiers are known for their big, bright eyes and heads that look massive on their small bodies.

The reason a tarsier’s head is so big is that its head needs to accommodate its eyes. Tarsier eyes are bigger than organs like the brain or stomach. The reason for their large size is that tarsiers lack the reflective covering in their eyes that let nocturnal animals see at night.

To help tarsiers see, their eyes are just significantly bigger. They can also narrow their eyes to slits to focus like humans, though they can’t rotate their eyes. This may be the evolutionary reason that tarsiers can turn their heads like an owl- it gives them a much better field of vision.

Lions

Lions don’t necessarily have a massive head, however, they do have a bigger head than many of the other big cat species. This is likely because the lions’ bite is more powerful than that of other wild cats and they need strong muscles in their jaw to achieve that.

Additionally, a lion’s head looks bigger because of its mane. Only male lions grow manes. Like with human males, male lions produce more testosterone once they reach sexual maturity and this causes their mane (or facial hair) to grow.

With lions, the bigger the mane, the better. Males are highly competitive and only one lives in a group called a pride, where several females (lionesses) may live. The color and thickness of the mane are thought to reflect the health of the lion, so it makes them more attractive to potential mates.

Gorillas and Orangutans

Primates like the gorilla share more DNA with humans than most other members of the animal kingdom. Despite the obvious similarities though, there are a lot of things that set us apart from the primates we’re related to.

Gorillas have a much bigger head than humans do when compared to the overall size of their body because of their sagittal crest and brow line. The sagittal crest is the large, dome-shaped area above a gorilla’s forehead. It supports the temporal muscles gorillas need for grinding the vegetation they eat.

Researchers think gorillas have a stronger brow line because of their diet, which is primarily plants, berries, leaves, and roots. However, many gorillas also eat nuts. 

Gorillas break through the hard shells of nuts by biting down on them. Their large brow ridge absorbs some of that energy that moves through the gorilla’s skull from the force of biting down on the nut. This protects the gorilla’s brain.

Orangutans are another member of the chimp family known for having a big head, particularly when compared to the rest of their body. The reason a male orangutan’s head looks so big is the cheek pads that it uses to emit a call through the forest and mark its territory.

These cheek pads may develop when the orangutan turns 13, though some orangutans don’t get them until they are 30. Once they have cheek pads, male orangutans are very competitive and will not allow other males in their territory.

Horses

If you’ve ever stood next to a horse, then chances are you’ve noticed the big difference in the size of a human’s head compared to that of the mighty horse. Much of their head is made up of a long snout and nostrils.

While a horse’s head is proportionately sized for its body, it’s still a big head. One of the reasons for this comes down to their olfactory sense, or their ability to smell.

Horses rely on their sense of smell for a lot because they aren’t really known for having the long distance best vision. While they can see something right in front of them, they are more likely to hear or smell a person that sneaks up on them before they see them.

Horses also use their long nose and impressive sense of smell when they are grazing. You’ll often see them pass over an area with their nose before they eat. This is how they pick out different types of grass, herbs, and other plants that they want to eat.

Additionally, the size of their nose holes matters because horses are incapable of breathing through their mouth. They also use their nostrils, like the ears, as a form of communication.

Green Humphead Parrotfish

It’s estimated there are around 90 species of parrotfish, though the only one known for its large forehead is the green humphead parrotfish. Their forehead bulge resembles that of the beluga whale, though they have forehead bulges for different reasons.

The large forehead of this species of parrotfish is a big advantage when it comes to its diet. Green humphead parrotfish eat hard coral and they use their forehead to break bits off the coral that they can eat.

With these parrotfish, those with the largest, strongest foreheads often prevail. No other species eat coral, so they only have competition among other parrotfish. Their strong foreheads are also used for fighting and mating, similar to the way you see bucks fight over does.

Napoleon Fish

Another fish known for its large head is the Napoleon fish, also called the humphead wrasse. Like the humphead parrotfish, the Napoleon fish has a big hump that sticks out of its forehead.

Napoleon fish are also characterized by their big eyes and large lips that protrude out farther than those of the average fish. They also have black lines behind their eyes that are sometimes referred to as “eyelashes”.

The Napoleon fish’s head is even bigger when you consider its size total size. The fish can get up to 6 feet long and weigh as much as 400 pounds, so their head is massive.

While Napoleon fish are listed as endangered, they are considered a delicacy and it is still legal to export up to 200 Napoleon fish each year in Indonesia where 20% of the worldwide population of Napoleon ish live. Because of this and illegal trade, the Napoleon fish is at risk of becoming extinct.

Koalas

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Koalas aren’t really big, but they do have heads that look a little too big for their body. Like the horse, this more than likely comes down to needing a head that supports their large noses and ears, which they rely on for a number of things.

Koala heads are not big because of their brain, which is comparatively smaller than that of other marsupials. One hypothesis is that koalas have a smaller brain because it uses less energy. Since they are not social creatures, have an especially slow metabolism, and spend most of their lives asleep, they don’t need a big brain.

Instead, it’s more likely that the head is big to accommodate large ears and a large nose. Koalas rely on their senses to alert them to predators, particularly because they are slow-moving creatures. Additionally, the large nose of a koala lets it smell the toxicity level of different eucalyptus leaves so it can decide which ones to eat. 

Hammerhead Bats

There are more than 200 species of bat that call Africa home, but it’s only the hammerhead bat that has a unique appearance and a huge head compared to the size of its body. For the hammerhead bat, the oversized shape of their throat, nose, and larynx allow them to make the honking sound they are known for.

It is worth noting that the males of this species are the only members that have this big, oversized head. The females look similar to any other fruit bat you’d see and are much smaller in size.

Hammerhead bats use their ability to honk to attract a mate. Around mating season, male bats gather in groups called leks and use their call to attract females to mate.

What Land Animal Has the Biggest Head?

The land animal with the biggest head is the elephant. There are four species of elephant, including African savanna elephants, African forest elephants, Asian elephants, and Bornean elephants.

Of these, it’s the African elephants that have the largest heads. Asian elephants have smaller ears, making their heads smaller overall.

Sadly all four species of elephants are critically endangered because of threats from things like habitat loss and poaching.  poaching, climate change, and habitat loss caused by deforestation and agriculture. Asian elephants and African savanna elephants are endangered, while African forest elephants are critically endangered.

What Mammal Has the Biggest Head?

The Antarctic blue whale holds the title of the mammal with the biggest head. With the Antarctic blue whale being the largest mammal in the world, it makes sense that it has an enormous head.

The biggest blue whales can weigh as much as 400,000 pounds and get up to 98 feet long! With a body this size, the average blue whale has a skull that is 18 feet long and even the animal’s heart is the size of a small car. 

Which Animal Has the Biggest Head Relative to Its Body Size?

When it comes to the animal with the biggest head relative to its body size, the top contender is actually an insect. More specifically, the female South American cycad beetle has the biggest head relative to the size of its body.

Cycad beetles have a snout that protrudes from their head. It contains their mouthparts at the very end, and it even is the home of their eyes and antennae.

The snout of the female cycad beetle is around 3/4 an inch long, while the rest of its body is half this size. This means that this insect’s head is twice the size of the rest of its body.

The biggest non-insect animal that has an enormous head for its body size is the tarsier. Tarsier heads are extra large to accommodate their extra large eyes! They need this feature because they can’t see as well at night as other nocturnal animals.

Final Word

These animals with big heads come from all walks of life. While some animals have big heads just because of the sheer size of the animal, others have heads that are smaller than human heads, but still large compared to the size of their bodies.

Some big-headed animals include octopuses, rhinoceroses, lions, elephants, and whales. A few animals with big heads relative to their body size include owls, tarsiers, and hammerhead bats.

In the case of all these animals, there always seems to be an evolutionary reason for their massive head. This might come down to their diet, the position of their eyes, or because their head needs to be strong for defense or mating purposes.