In the natural world, apex predators reign supreme with their exceptional hunting skills and dominance over their ecosystems. From the mountain to the sea, these remarkable creatures shape the balance of their environments.
Before we take a look at the worlds top apex predators, let’s define what we mean by apex predator.
What Is An Apex Predator?
An apex predator is an animal that kills and eats other animals, and doesn’t have any natural predators of its own. It’s top of the food chain.
They play an important role in the food chain, and wildlife ecosystems. Some apex predators, such as the gray wolf are also keystone species, which influence prey behaviour and control smaller ‘mesopredators’. 1
The theory of ‘trophic cascades’ has demonstrated the importance of predation as a population size limit for a range of taxa (top-down regulation).
Humans have for centuries interacted with apex predators within their environments, and learnt to respect some of the most dangerous, tough and smart animals on the planet.
Let’s take a closer look at a selection of the top 10 apex predators from around the world.
The saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile in the entire world. It can be found throughout the tropical regions of Asia, Australia, North America, and South America.
With their powerful jaws, immense size, and remarkable aquatic prowess, these crocodiles are fearsome hunters.
They are capable of ambushing unsuspecting prey that dares to come close to the water’s edge.
The African lion is often referred to as the “king of the jungle”. It comes as no surprise either, especially since this apex predator symbolizes strength, power, and unity.
These majestic big cats dominate the savannas of Africa. Here, they display impressive hunting skills.
They are known for forming social prides that work together to bring down large herbivores, such as zebras and wildebeests.
Fun fact: the female lions are responsible for a majority of the hunting!
8. Killer Whale
The killer whale, or orca, is an apex predator of the marine realm.
With their striking black and white coloration and incredible intelligence, these highly social mammals occupy the oceans across the globe.
Feeding on fish, seals, and even other whales, killer whales use advanced hunting techniques, including cooperative strategies, to secure their prey.
7. Bengal Tiger
The Bengal tiger is the largest feline species. It roams the dense forests and mangrove swamps of the Indian subcontinent. They are known for their beautiful orange coats with distinctive black stripes.
However, these solitary hunters are also known for possessing immense strength and agility. Their primary prey includes deer, wild boars, and occasionally even large buffalo.
6. Polar Bear
Thriving in the harsh Arctic environment, the polar bear is the world’s largest land predator.
Adapted to survive in freezing temperatures, these mighty creatures depend on the sea ice to hunt their favorite prey.
However, what animal is number one on this apex predator’s menu? Look no further than the seal!
With their exceptional swimming abilities and acute sense of smell, polar bears are perfectly suited for a life on the ice.
5. Nile Crocodile
The Nile crocodile is one of the top ten apex predators. It can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This is especially true of the rivers, lakes, and swamps in the Nile basin.
Possessing immense power, these crocodiles are opportunistic hunters. They are known for ambushing prey that comes to drink from the water’s edge. Their diet consists of fish, birds, and mammals, including large ungulates.
For humans, the Nile crocodile may just be the most dangerous of the different species of crocodile. This is due to both their habitat near humans as well as their lethality.
4. Gray Wolf
The gray wolf is often portrayed as a symbol of wilderness and freedom. It is a highly adaptable predator found in many diverse habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
Living in social packs, wolves are skilled hunters, capable of taking down large herbivores. This can include those such as elk, moose, and musk oxen. Their cooperative nature and well-coordinated tactics make them formidable apex predators.
3. Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena is an incredibly successful predator, despite the bad reputation they may tote around.
Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, these highly intelligent and sociable animals have a complex social structure.
Equipped with powerful jaws, hyenas are skilled scavengers and effective hunters, capable of taking down prey as large as wildebeests. They’ve even been known to defeat lions when necessary!
The great white shark is often considered the apex predator of the oceans. It nstills both fear and fascination in people around the world.
With their powerful bodies, rows of serrated teeth, and keen senses, these creatures dominate the marine food chain. They are known for their ability to detect even the slightest scent of blood, enabling them to locate and pursue their prey. Their includes seals, sea lions, and various fish species.
Don’t let their spot at number two on this list frighten you, however. Shark attacks on humans are fairly rare. Although they are one of the top three species of sharks to attack humans, along with bull and tiger sharks, encounters, especially dangerous ones, are extremely rare.
Topping the list of the world’s apex predators is the Siberian tiger, also known as the Amur tiger.
This majestic feline is the largest and most powerful of all tiger subspecies, found primarily in the forests of eastern Russia and northeastern China.
With their awe-inspiring presence, distinctive orange coats, and powerful builds, Siberian tigers have well-earned their spot as number one!
That completes our list of the top 10 apex predators in the world.
It’s long been debated by ecologists whether humans are apex predators. Some research has concluded that humans evolved from apex predators, before diversifying their diet as many of the large animals were hunted to disappearance. 2
Some scientists argue that humans are now ‘superpredators’, way above apex predators, due to the way they kill carinovores using technology and poaching. 3
Fact Sources & References
- Arian D. Wallach, Ido Izhaki, Judith D. Toms, William J. Ripple, Uri Shanas (2015),”What is an apex predator?“, Wiley.
- Ben‐Dor, Miki et al (2021),”The Evolution Of The Human Trophic Level During The Pleistocene“, American Journal Of Physical Anthropology.
- Smith, Justine A. et al (2017), “Fear Of The Human ‘Super Predator’ Reduces Feeding Time In Large Carnivores“, Proceedings Of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.