At the Summer Olympics, you’ll see lots of fast human beings racing each other. But how would those runners finish in a race against the fastest land animal on Earth? What animal is that? The cheetah, of course!
The cheetah’s scientific name is Acinonyx jubatus. If you’ve ever seen pictures of a cheetah, you know that it is a large member of the feline (cat) family. You can find cheetahs throughout most of Africa and parts of the Middle East.
The cheetah is by far the fastest land animal living on Earth. How fast you might be wondering? Very fast!
Scientists estimate that cheetahs can reach speeds between 70-75 miles per hour. Of course, they can’t sustain that high speed over long distances, but they can go that fast in short bursts that can cover up to 1,600 feet or more.
Cheetahs can reach those speeds very quickly, too. A cheetah’s explosive speed can take it from 0 to over 62 miles per hour in just three seconds. Now that’s fast! In fact, it’s about as fast as the world’s most expensive sports cars can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour.
Why are cheetahs so fast? Scientists have identified several features of the cheetah that help it achieve such amazing speeds.
For example, cheetahs are one of only three types of cats that have semi-retractable claws. This means that cheetahs can’t fully retract their claws like most other cats can. This feature gives cheetahs extra grip when chasing prey.
Cheetahs also have large nostrils that allow them to breathe in more oxygen when running. Their hearts and lungs are also larger than other cats of similar size, which allows them to circulate oxygen throughout their bodies more efficiently.
Even cheetahs’ tails help them run faster and turn quickly by acting like the rudder of a ship. As they’re running, cheetahs use their tails to help maintain their balance and steer when sharp turns are necessary!
So how much faster are cheetahs compared to humans? Currently, the world’s fastest human being is Jamaican Usain Bolt, who set the world record in the 100-meter dash in 2009 with a blistering time of only 9.58 seconds.
That world record equates to a speed of just over 23 miles per hour. That’s fast, but it’s no match for the cheetah’s over 70 miles per hour!