For animals, fast speed often means survival. It means outrunning predators or catching prey. In order to be fast, every physiological characteristic is important. The ratio of height and weight, flexibility, and respiratory functioning are all things that affect speed. This article identifies the fastest mammals in the world and what makes them so fast.
The Fastest Mammals
The cheetah is the fastest mammal on earth and can reach speeds of 68 to 75 miles per hour (mph). Though not the best for endurance, they run in short burst of 60 seconds or so. This feline is build for speed. They have large nasal passages that lead to large lungs, even the heart is enlarged to allow for maximum oxygen in the blood. Cheetahs use their tail for balance and spend more time with their paws in the air than on the ground while running.
The second fastest mammal on earth never runs on the ground. The Free-tailed bat soars through the nighttime air at 60 mph and it is their “free” or unattached tail that allows them to reach such speeds. They inhabit every continent except Antarctica.
After the Free-tailed bat is the Pronghorn, a graceful antelope that reaches speeds of up to 55 mph. While this antelope cannot outrun a cheetah in a head to head race, it can run for longer periods of time. That makes this mammal the fastest over long distances and the fastest in the Western Hemisphere. They are native to North America and live in wide, open grasslands. Scientists believe the Pronghorn evolved such high speeds to outrun predators. They share some of the same physical features as the cheetah: enlarged nasal passages, lungs, and heart.
Sharing the number 3 spot on the list of the fastest mammals is the Springbok, an African antelope. This animal reaches the same speeds as the Pronghorn, 55 mph, though it cannot sustain over long distances.
Number 4 on the list is the Wildebeest, another species of antelope. These mammals run up to speeds of 50 mph which allows them to escape lions, hyenas, cheetahs and leopards. Although more than their speed, it is their herding behavior that helps protect them from predators. Every year, wildebeests make a long migration following the pattern of rainy and dry seasons.
Other Animals Capable of 50+ Miles Per Hour Running Speeds
The lion which lives in Africa, the Blackbuck antelope which lives in India, and the hare which lives on 3 continents can all reach the same speed as the wildebeest. In this case, the Blackbuck and the hare have evolved these speeds to escape predators. The lion has evolved this speed to hunt although it cannot run for long distances and so must be close to its prey before attacking.
Comparisons to the Fastest Human Athletes
Other impressive mammals on the list include the greyhound (46 mph), jackrabbit (45 mph), African wild dog (44 mph), and kangaroo (44 mph). In comparison, the fastest human athlete in the world can reach speeds of up to 100 meters in 9.58 seconds or roughly 23.37 mph. Usain Bolt accomplished just this on August 16, 2009. This means he is almost as fast as the African elephant (which reaches speed of 25 mph)! After Usain Bolt, two men hold second place. Tyson Gay and Yohan Blake have each run the 100 meter in 9.69 seconds. This is an astounding feat because the average human runs approximately 15 mph, but only for short distances.