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!

94 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (60 votes, avg. 4.35 out of 5)
    • Hi, Aparajita! Thanks for visiting today’s Wonder and letting us know what you think about cheetahs! We think they are AMAZING, too! We thought it was interesting to learn that the fastest human can’t even come close to being as fast as a cheetah! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • You’re absolutely right, Caelah! Thanks so much for visiting today’s Wonder and sharing your comment with us! We hope you are having a GREAT week! :-)

    I meant to give you 4 stars, but my finger was too wobbly so I pressed 3 instead. You made me WONDER what cheetahs eat.

    • We think your comment ROCKS, Charlie! Thanks for letting us know about the stars. We really appreciate that you and some of our other Wonder Friends use the star rating system to let us know what you think about each Wonder! :-)

      We have a cool page on the San Diego Zoo’s website that has more detailed information about cheetahs and what they eat. We think that is a GREAT thing to WONDER about! Check out the “A quick meal” section: Happy WONDERing! :-)

  2. Hi,
    We didn’t know that the fastest person on earth can go 23 miles per hour. We think it is funny that his name is BOLT.
    We are WONDERing if the Peragon Falcon is the fastest animal in the sky????
    We liked the video and seeing how fast the cheetah can catch its prey.
    Also, we did our paper airplane challenge yesterday and Austin was our champion. His “arrow” design went 14 metres and 80 centimetres. We had an AMAZING time making and flying our own planes. We are WONDERing if tomorrow’s wonder will be about black box, flare guns, emergency kits or SOS?

    • We REALLY enjoyed your comment today, Susan and all of our WONDERful Wonder Friends in your class! We never thought about the fact that the fastest human has the last name, “Bolt.” That’s a super cool coincidence!

      Your WONDER about which is the fastest animal in the sky would make an AWESOME future Wonder of the Day®! We appreciate you sharing that with us!

      Great job, Austin, and all the other paper plane pilots in your class! You guys are AMAZING and we’re super proud of you for finding even MORE ways to WONDER together! Way to go, guys! :-)

    • We think cheetahs are AMAZING, too, Chelsea! Thanks for visiting this Wonder of the Day® and leaving us a comment to let us know what you think about cheetahs! :-)

  3. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is something about talking about what to do in a shipwreck. Or maybe about a famous shipwreck?

    • That’s a really great guess, AsianGirl! Thanks for sharing it with us! We’ll all have to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if your guess is correct! :-)

  4. Today’s wonder was really cool, I liked learning about how fast cheetahs are. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about the Titanic or just ships. :D

    • We like that guess, Ahmed! We think you are a SUPER Wonder Friend for visiting today’s Wonder of the Day® and learning about cheetahs with us! Thanks for being AWESOME! :-)

    • It makes us so super happy to hear that you loved exploring today’s Wonder, Arielle! Thank you for leaving us a comment to let us know that! We hope you have a GREAT rest of the summer! :-)

    • They’re both really cool creatures, aren’t they, Jewelle? Thanks for sharing your WONDERful comment with us today…we appreciate you! :-)

    • We have lots of Wonder Friends whose first names are Jared and Dori, Jewelle! We bet they would be happy to know that you appreciate them as much as you do cheetahs! Thanks for being a friend of Wonderopolis, too! :-)

    • Hello, Parker! That’s an AWESOME question! We think cheetahs are super fast, super incredible, super cool and super WONDERful! :-)

    • You are one AMAZING Wonder guesser, Rahul! GREAT JOB! We hope you had as much fun learning interesting facts about the fastest land animal as we did! YOU ROCK! :-)

    • We think it’s GREAT that today’s Wonder is one of your favorites, Ally! Thank you so much for sharing your comment and your love of cheetahs with everyone in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  5. Good Morning Wonderopolis!

    Jack wanted to say that he loved watching and learning about the Cheetah!

    Have a great day.

    • We loved learning about cheetahs today too, Jack and Wonder Lead Jon! We had SO MUCH FUN watching the cheetahs in the video run..we wish we could run that fast! It was super interesting to learn about their big nostrils that help them take in large amounts of air when they run, too! Thanks for sharing your comment with us…we hope you guys are enjoying the summer so far! :-)

  6. Hi, I’m 4 years and I love cheetahs. When I want to go fast I give myself CHEETAH POWER! Cheetas are faster than Bolt the dog.

    • Cheetah Power sounds like a WONDERful way to go fast, Fiona! Thanks for sharing about that with us…we will have to try it the next time we want to take a speedy run! Thank you for visiting today’s Wonder of the Day®! We think you are AWESOME! :-)

    • That’s a REALLY awesome question, Tash! We will both have to do a bit more WONDERing about that one! Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us today…it ROCKS! :-)

  7. The cheetah might be fast, but can he beat the undefeated westie dogs name “Snowy” and “Ramona?” Their 4-legs are like motors of power and straight, their jaws, strong enough to brake a hard ball, and they never give up, their hearts and lungs very powerful, and they are the best dogs I ever had. :-D

    • We bet it would be hard to beat Snowy and Ramona on many levels, Carlos! They sound like a pair of AWESOME Wonder dogs! Thank you for telling us about them and for leaving us another super creative, clever comment! We hope you had a GREAT Wednesday! :-)

    • Hello there, “Wonder!” We’re really glad you thought this Wonder was cool and awesome! Thanks for letting us know! :-)

  8. Dear Wonderopolis,
    This is Grace and I have a question, who found rice first, Mexicans, Chinese or Japanese?
    -Grace S.

    • We like that you are WONDERing about rice, Grace! Way to go! We think lots of Wonder Friends would enjoy learning more about rice, too, in a future Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  9. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Great wonder! I love cheetahs and think they are sooo cute! At my school, running is a big thing. They have Cross Country, Track, Winter Running Club, etc. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about balloons/helium, or like Grace S. said, rice.
    Paige ;)

  10. Hi Wonderopolis! I never new cheetahs were this fast!! I wonder if any human will become as fast as a cheetah! Thanks for giving me a lot of information about cheetahs.

    • It’s FUN to WONDER how fast humans could become in the future with all of the specialized training and advances in technology, isn’t it, Abhi? We’re super glad you had fun learning some cool new facts about cheetahs with us today! :-)

  11. Hi Wonderopolis, Humans can not out run cheetahs. I wish we could out run them. It would be fun. Here are some things I learned from today’s Wonder.

    Cheetahs tails can make them run faster and turn quickly by acting like the rudder of a ship. Have a happy wondering day Wonderopolis

    • Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned about big cats, Monkey Geek! We are glad you added to our Wonder– there’s so much information, we wouldn’t want to leave anything out! We appreciate that you are sharing and WONDERing today! :)

  12. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I love your video about Can a Human Out Run a Cheetah? I love animals! Do you guys love animals too?

    P.S. You told me more about cheetahs than I ever knew. I am now hooked on a book about cheetahs.

    • WOHOO, we all LOVE to Wonder about different animals here at Wonderopolis, Shane! It’s so much fun to think of the different places animals live, how they spend their time and what they do every day! We’re so glad you’re reading as much as you can about cheetahs– your book must be SUPER! :)

  13. Dear Wonderopolis

    I like, Who’s at the top of the food chain? I like it because it is awesome. I like the part when the hunter kills the crocodile. I learned that humans are at the top of the food chain. It was a good video and really funny. Thanks for making learning fun.

    Your Wonder Friend,

    P.S. When it is my turn to pick a wonder category I am going to pick, Make Believe.

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Graham! We’re so happy that you enjoyed our food chain Wonder- it’s awesome to learn something new! We hope you have a SUPER weekend, filled with WONDERing! See you soon! :)

    • We’re really glad you liked the video for this Wonder of the Day® about how fast cheetahs can run, William! Thank you for letting us know you liked it, and THANKS for telling us what you would like to see more of when you visit Wonderopolis! :-)

    • You’re in luck, Wonder Friend Abanoub! We’ve got a Wonder all about that exact question– check it out (you’re already in the right spot)! :)

  14. I love them! They are just amazing. How fast can a cheetah run?

    • We love your enthusiasm, Wonder Friend Basil! Thanks for sharing your comment about the super speedy cheetah! They sure are WONDERful! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, DJ! We think it’s great that you’re thinking about different ways to test the Wonder! We hope you’ll do some more research of your own with the help of the Internet and library! We can’t wait to hear about what you learn! :)

    • Hi Ronan!Thanks for WONDERing with us! The video shows the cheetah in his natural habitat! It would be dangerous for a cheetah to race a human and undoubtedly the cheetah would win! Keep WONDERing! :)

    • It is pretty AMAZING how fast cheetahs can run, Peggy. Have you ever seen a cheetah run at the zoo? We love it when our Wonders make our Wonder Friends think of more Wonders. Be sure to nominate your Wonder in our What Are You Wondering? section.

  15. Hi Wonderopolis I’m having so much fun on Wonderopolis.
    Have you actually tried to outrun a cheatah?
    If you haven’t I think you should try to because that is a cool wonder to wonder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Talk to ya later ! Bye!!!!!!!

    • Thank you for taking the time to visit Wonderopolis and learning about cheetahs today, Caitlin. We have not tried to outrun a cheetah. We look forward to WONDERing with you again soon! :)

    • Aren’t they spectacular creatures, Okello? We’re glad you enjoyed this Wonder of the Day! Thanks for WONDERing with us!! :) :)

    • That’s a great question, Gracie! The cheetah’s long tail acts like a rudder does on a ship. It helps steer the hind legs by pointing in the direction the cheetah wants to turn. It provides counter balance so that the body doesn’t tip over while taking tight turns. Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • We’re not sure, Danny, but it certainly seems possible sometime in history! We WONDER if the human would be able to keep up at all with the cheetah, or if the cheetah would blow past the human in no time! What do you think? :)

  16. This wonder was amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wonder is there a wonder on Tiger because they are so purrrrty !!!!!!!!!!!!

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can a human outrun a cheetah?
  • How fast can a cheetah run?
  • What special adaptations make cheetahs so fast?

Wonder Gallery

cheetah_shutterstock_37268149Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Wow! Today’s Wonder of the Day went by really fast, didn’t it? Keep learning more by checking out one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Have you ever seen a cheetah up close in the wild? We hope not! If you have, you’ve probably had a more interesting race than you anticipated! To see some cheetahs from the comfort of your computer screen, check out Cheetah Pictures online. Aren’t they beautiful? Would you want a cheetah as a pet? Why or why not?
  • Ready to learn a few interesting cheetah facts? Check these out:
    • Unlike most other big cats, cheetahs can purr but cannot roar.
    • Cheetahs are endangered and have trouble adapting to new environments.
    • You can find cheetahs in zoos, but most zoos have trouble breeding cheetahs in captivity.
  • Think you’re faster than a cheetah? By now, you know that you’re not going to beat a cheetah in a race. So maybe you should set your sights on competing with some slower animals. Do you have any pets? If so, take them to a local park or the backyard and get some exercise together. Play chase and see if you can beat them in a race. Don’t worry if you come in second place. Most animals with four legs can easily beat humans with their two legs! You can also get some friends and family members together to run or jog together. If they’re up for a race, go for it! However, just walking together for the fun of it is good exercise, too. If you want to improve your speed, set some goals for yourself. First, time yourself running a particular distance. Then, over the course of a few weeks, stretch and exercise several times a week. After a few weeks, time yourself again and see how much you have improved!

Still Wondering

Check out National Geographic Education’s Cheetah Chase video to learn about how much work it takes to track and get close enough to wild cheetahs to photograph them!

Test Your Knowledge

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