Wild Fact #967 – Faster than a Speeding Bullet – Cheetah

Wild Fact #967 – Faster than a Speeding Bullet – Cheetah

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It is the middle of the week and I am still feeling a little sluggish (I think I need to start drinking coffee) so I thought it might help me if I wrote about the fastest land animal.  We will see if the cheetah is able to inspire me to get moving and become a bit more productive this week.

I believe most people know that the cheetah is to the cat world what Usain Bolt (come on people, the crazy fast sprinter!) is to humans.  So how come the cheetah is so much faster than anything else? Is it because they have four legs to run on? In a little experiment, I tried running on all four legs but my speed was nowhere near the 120 km/h (75 mph) that the cheetah obtains.  The only thing this experiment accomplished was to amuse the passerby’s watching me run in circles in my front yard on all fours.

All right, I know the suspense is getting to you so I will share the secret of achieving cheetah speed.  It all has to do with the way cheetah’s are built.  Yep, it is their anatomy that allows them to run so fast.  I am pretty sure you all suspected that so I guess I should go into a little more detail.  I guess we can start with their legs since it seems like a logical place to start.  I want everyone to look and feel their shoulder.  Are you looking at it? Good, see how it is a socket like system? Well, a cheetah does not have shoulders like humans.  Their shoulders are held by very strong muscles. When you add this to a very flexible skeleton it gives the cheetah’s legs a larger range of motion which in turn increases its stride.  The cheetah’s stride may be as long as 23 feet. As well, the spine of a cheetah acts like a spring, not quite like a slinky but similar, which allows the cheetah to have explosive bursts. All right, so we know they have strong leg muscles and a springing, slinky spine but how can they breathe so easily while running at great speeds.  I am panting and wheezing just thinking about running so clearly I don’t have the same adaptations as the cheetah.

The cheetah has enlarged nostrils which allow for a greater intake of oxygen.  As well, their lungs and hearts are also larger which works together like an well oiled machine to circulate that additional oxygen.  In order to have some traction while running like the wind, the cheetah has semi-retractable claws (your typical house cat has fully retractable claws, but don’t tell your couch cushions that). This type of claw system allows for greater grip and ultimately more control.  I know this post is getting long but I also wanted to let you know that the cheetah will also use its tail as a rudder to help steer itself during a chase.

All right, this post is just about finished.  One last cheetah fast fact and I will let you get on with your day.

Cheetah Fast Fact: A cheetah can only maintain its top speed for about 30 seconds and rarely longer than a minute.  They are able to accelerate from 0 to 110 km/h (68 mph) in 3 seconds.  Not only do they accelerate  faster than my truck but faster than most supercars.

Thanks for reading and I will see you again tomorrow.  Have a great day!

4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bev Lawrence October 07, 2009

    I knew it was fast but 110 km/hr. I’m impressed. They’re beautiful cats as well.
    Thanks Nathan
    P.S. I would have enjoyed seeing you on all fours in your front yard. Margo wouldn’t have gotten any pics by chance?

    • Avatar
      Nathan October 07, 2009

      haha! Sorry but I managed to wrestle the camera away from her so no pictures!

  2. Avatar
    Linda October 08, 2009

    The cheetah is one of many large cat species that require speed in order to survive. What about the lion, panther and other large cats – do they have similar adaptations that give them the advantage over their prey?

    We witnessed a group of 13 or so lions stalk and chase a Wildebeest over the course of a few hours – is it a case that they do not have the same physical advantages as the cheetah? Would you say they use strategy as well as speed because of their physical structure?

    • Avatar
      Nathan October 08, 2009

      That is a great question. Other cats such as lions, panthers, tigers, etc. have adapted special techniques and characteristics to effectively hunt its prey; however, only the cheetah has evolved these type of adaptations to allow for this great speed. The cheetah is much smaller than lions or other big cats (on average the male cheetah weighs around 140 pounds compared to the male lion which weighs on average 420 pounds). The small size, spring like spine, muscular shoulders are all adaptations that allow the cheetah to be the fastest land animal.
      That is incredible that you actually had the opportunity to witness a pride of lions stalking a wildebeest, I am so incredibly envious! Lions have a very different hunting technique then cheetahs. Cheetahs tend to be solitary animals that will stalk their prey in order to get as close as possible before bursting out at 1oo km/hr to try and catch it. This often leaves the cheetah exhausted and lacking oxygen. For this reason, they do not eat right after they hunt as they need to catch their breath and restore some energy reserves. During this time, animals such as lions may come along and steal the prey. Due to the size difference it is similar to the school nerd having his lunch money stolen by the big bully.
      Lions, on the other hand, usually hunt in groups which obviously changes the dynamics of their hunting style. The pride of lions will stalk their prey with the females usually being the attackers (due to their smaller size, agility and speed). The lion is not known for its endurance so it must using stalking stategies to get within 100 feet of its prey before attacking it. Otherwise, they will run out of stamina before catching their dinner. As well, several lionesses may circle a group of animals and attack the closest one. The speed of a lion is usually around 50 km/hr which is a lot slower than the cheetah but they don’t have the drawbacks that the cheetah has with trying to recuperate the energy expended.
      I will end with saying that cheetah populations are dwindling and some believe that this specialized hunting strategy may part of the reasoning. They expend a lot of energy to capture their food.

      I hope this answers your question but please don’t be shy to ask additional questions if I didn’t explain this very well.

      Thanks again for an excellent question!

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