What is the Largest Biological Cell? (with pictures) (2023)

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What is the Largest Biological Cell? (with pictures) (1)

Michael Anissimov

(Video) Biology: Cell Structure I Nucleus Medical Media

Michael Anissimov Last Modified Date: December 26, 2022

The largest biological cell is often cited as the ostrich egg, which is about 6 inches (15 cm) long and weigh about 3 pounds (1.4 kg). This is a myth. There are at least several biological cells larger than an ostrich egg, despite the fact that even many scientists and laypeople believe the ostrich egg is indeed the biggest. The ostrich may actually be the heaviest cell, but this has not yet been tested.

Largeness refers to size, not weight, so the ostrich egg is definitely not the largest. The first type of cell larger than the ostrich egg are nerve cells in especially long animals, such as the Giant Squid and Colossal Squid, which may have nerve cells as long as 39 feet (12 m), about 80 times larger than an ostrich egg. Nerve cells have very long axons, enabling the brain to send signals to distant limbs almost instantly. In giraffes, the nerve cells may be several yards (meters) long, running the whole length of the animal's neck, and in humans, the longest nerve cells are about 4.9 feet (1.5 m), running from the base of the spine to the toes. So even the human body has biological cells larger than the ostrich egg.

Contrary to popular belief, an ostrich egg is not the largest biological cell.

One might argue that, in terms of volume, an ostrich egg is still the largest in comparison to nerve cells, which may be very long but exceedingly skinny, on the order of 10 microns or less. Even ignoring nerve cells, however, there is another type of cells larger than the ostrich egg: extremely large algae like Caulerpa, which may grow to 10 feet (3 m) in length or more, a single cell that may include up to 200 fronds.

Nerve cells in giraffes can be as long as the animal's neck.

Caulerpa is one among several other algae that superficially resemble vascular plants because of their branching structure. It is a type of cell that contains numerous nuclei, which may be part of the reason it is often overlooked when the award for largest biological cell is handed out. In Indonesia, certain species are eaten as the "sea grape," and they are said to have a peppery taste, and may be eaten fresh or with sugar.

What is the Largest Biological Cell? (with pictures) (5)
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology,physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularlypassionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for theMethuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

What is the Largest Biological Cell? (with pictures) (6)
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology,physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularlypassionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for theMethuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

fBoyle

anon994425-- People sometimes get frustrated with this topic because the answer isn't very clear. The yolk could be considered a single cell. This doesn't mean that it resembles cells in other types of organisms. So it is not incorrect to say that an ostrich egg contains the largest single cell.

anon994425

I thought that a bird egg is not a cell and have cells inside them?

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anon989734

I agree that largeness is typically associated with size more than weight, the immediate jump to -length- is unwarranted when volume would be more precise. And with cells being comprised mostly of water, they'd all have approximately the same density, making -weight- a better measure of the largest cell than length would be.

anon346437

I think the confusion comes from high school biology - an egg is a very easy way to demonstrate what a cell looks like. It appears to have a cell wall, a cell membrane, and a nucleus. Obviously this is completely wrong - animal cells don't have cell walls so the shell isn't a good representation of this; albumen is nothing like the fluid within a cell, which contains ionic molecules to maintain fluid density and lots of organelles; and the yolk is nothing like a DNA containing nucleus.

Also, as an egg develops into a baby bird, it's not the egg that divides, it's a small embryonic cell within the egg - further demonstrating that the shell is not a cell wall and the yolk is not a nucleus. An egg is a useful tool for teaching kids, but an egg is definitely not a cell.

anon301946

@anon585512: I completely agree.

anon287597

Giant squid nerve cells might still win in volume; they are quite thick. What about coconuts? That's a big, heavy cell.

anon258865

An ostrich egg being the largest cell is a common myth, but an ostrich egg does contain a tiny egg cell, surrounded by supportive materials such as albumin, yolk and shell. Those supportive materials are not part of the egg. It is erroneous to think of an entire ostrich egg (or chicken egg, or snake egg, etc) as a cell. The cell part itself is tiny.

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anon131569

@chicada- Algae are not prokaryotic. Prokaryotic cells' defining characteristic is a lack of a nucleus. There are many other differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells but the nucleus is the defining characteristic. Also, fertilized eggs (zygotes) would still fall in the category of eukaryotic cells because they are one cell. An embryo, on the other hand, is a collection of cells and thus not one cell.

anon123817

A cell with multiple nuclei is often called a syncytium. An ostrich egg has just one nucleus. So too would a neuron. A better way to avoid confusion is to ask what is the largest cell by volume having a single nucleus. Is this the same as the largest cell with a single nucleus by length?

chicada

@ aplenty- there are two types of cells in cellular biology, so there should probably be two different distinctions as to what the biggest biological cell is. A prokaryotic cell is self-replicating individual living unit that contains biomolecular parts bound together by a membrane. These cells are what biologists consider single celled organisms like bacteria and algae.

Eukaryotic cells on the other hand have a distinct nucleus and work with other eukaryotic cells as an individual unit in a multicellular organism. These types of cells would be the cells in our bodies, in plants, and in other animals. Eggs would fall into this category in its unfertilized state.

aplenty

So what is the definition of a cell? What are the characteristics that define an ostrich egg or a spinal cord as a cell? What cell parts are necessary to qualify something as a cell?

anon58512

It seems you are relating size to length alone. It would be interesting to know the volume of those very long cells. It could be that we have "winners" for length and the ostrich egg may still take the prize for volume.

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    FAQs

    What is the largest biological cell? ›

    What is the single largest biological cell found in nature? Among the largest is the egg yolk of an ostrich, which is about 3 inches (8 centimeters) in diameter. The smallest cells are bacteria-like mycoplasmas, which can be as small as 0.00004 inch (0.1 micrometer) in diameter.

    What is the largest cell known and how much can it weigh? ›

    The largest biological cell is often cited as the ostrich egg, which is about 6 inches (15 cm) long and weigh about 3 pounds (1.4 kg).

    What is the largest cell in an animal? ›

    The largest known animal cell is the ostrich egg, which can reach about 5.1 inches wide and weighs around 1.4 kilogrammes. This is in stark contrast to the neuron in the human body, which is just 100 microns long.

    What is the smallest to largest cell? ›

    The smallest cell is Mycoplasma (PPLO-Pleuro pneumonia like organims). It is about 10 micrometer in size. The largest cells is an egg cell of ostrich. The longest cell is the nerve cell.

    What is the largest single cell? ›

    The biggest single-celled organism in the world is structured in the same way: an aquatic alga called Caulerpa taxifolia, which can grow to 30 cm long. Native to tropical Australia and the South Pacific, single-celled Caulerpa can grow very rapidly, which makes its invasive potential a real worry.

    What cell has a large size? ›

    Eggs contain the largest known single cell, and the ostrich egg is one of the largest of them all. The ostrich egg in Figure above is over 10,000 times larger than the mouse cell.

    What is the maximum size of a cell? ›

    So, although small cells are rate-limited by protein synthesis, large cells may also be limited by diffusional transport of proteins around the cell. Interestingly, prokaryotes are typically a few micrometers in size, eukaryotes are a few tens of micrometers, and there are very few cells much larger than 100 μm (2).

    What is the correct order from the smallest to the largest structure in the cell? ›

    The major levels of organization in the body, from the simplest to the most complex are: atoms, molecules, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, and the human organism.

    Is neuron the largest cell? ›

    Neurons are the fundamental units of the nervous system. They are the structural and functional elements that help in the coordination of the body activities. It is one of the longest and largest cells. The length of a nerve cell can vary from nanometers to meters.

    What is the largest human cell in male? ›

    The largest cell in the human male is considered to be Neuron or specifically motor neuron.It is also the longest cell in human body. The length of its axon is about 1 metres and has a diameter of 100 microns.

    Which is the smallest and biggest cell in the world? ›

    The smallest cell is Mycoplasma gallicepticum. It is about 10 micrometer in size. The largest cells is an egg of ostrich. It is about 15 to 18 cm long and wide.

    What is the largest cell in the blood? ›

    Monocytes are the largest cells of the blood (averaging 15–18 μm in diameter), and they make up about 7 percent of the leukocytes. The nucleus is relatively big and tends to be indented or folded rather than multilobed.

    What is the largest cell and how long it is? ›

    The largest cell is an ostrich egg, it is about 15cm to 18 cm long and wide .

    Can a cell grow infinitely large? ›

    Cells are limited in size because the outside (the cell membrane) must transport the food and oxygen to the parts inside. As a cell gets bigger, the outside is unable to keep up with the inside, because the inside grows a faster rate than the outside.

    How big are human cells? ›

    Most mammalian cells are between 10 to 100 µm in diameter. HeLa cells are normally 20 ~ 40 µm in diameter depending on the culture conditions. Red blood cells, one of the smallest human cells, have a diameter of around 8 µm. Muscle fiber cells and neurons on the other hand can be extremely long.

    How big are cells in the human body? ›

    The average size of a human cell is about 100 μm in diameter. The smallest of which is the red blood cell, and it also has not nucleus.

    What is smallest and largest cell organelle? ›

    Note: Cell is composed of organelles which play a key role in metabolism, protein synthesis, generate energy, the largest organelle of the cell is the Nucleus and the smallest one is ribosomes.

    Which list is in order from smallest to largest? ›

    Ascending order means the smallest or first or earliest in the order will appear at the top of the list: For numbers or amounts, the sort is smallest to largest.

    What are the 5 levels of organization in order from smallest to largest? ›

    Six general levels of the organization listed from smallest to largest are chemical, cellular, tissue, organ, organ system, and organism levels. Chemicals are regarded to be the smallest and lowest unit of organization in a living system, ranging from the smallest atoms to the largest macromolecules.

    Can a cell be as big as an elephant? ›

    The size of the cells does not decide the size of the organism. It is the number of cells that differ and make the difference in sizes of different organisms. So beacuse the size of the cells in different organisms does not vary an elephant won't have larger cells than a rat.

    How much does a cell weigh? ›

    The mean weight of a cell is 1 nanogram. For an adult man weighing 70 kilograms, simple arithmetic would lead us to conclude that that man has 70 trillion cells. On the other hand, it's also possible to do this calculation based on the volume of cells.

    Can cells grow to an unlimited size? ›

    Cells are limited in size because the outside (the cell membrane) must transport the food and oxygen to the parts inside. As a cell gets bigger, the outside is unable to keep up with the inside, because the inside grows a faster rate than the outside.

    Do humans have bigger cells than mice? ›

    The individual cells that compose all of their bodies--from shrews to people to dinosaurs--are roughly the same size. Big animals just have many more cells than little animals. That's important, because keeping those cells alive and functioning is the reason we animals eat and drink and breathe.

    Can cells grow to any size? ›

    In general, we grow to our full adult size via an increase in the number — not the size — of our cells. But some of our cells can change size — and this can be for healthy or not-so-healthy reasons.

    Can cell get too big? ›

    If the cell grows too large, the plasma membrane will not have sufficient surface area to support the rate of diffusion required for the increased volume. In other words, as a cell grows, it becomes less efficient.

    How many miles is a cell? ›

    While the typical coverage radius of a cell tower is 1 to 3 miles and in dense urban environments, a cell tower usually reaches 0.25 miles to 1 mile before handing off a user's connection to another nearby cell site.

    How many cells does it take to make a human? ›

    There are about 100 trillion cells that make up the human body. A new megascience endeavor will catalog and image each of the 200 or more types of cells from the 80 known organs and identify the genes that are active in these cells.

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