Animal Olympics: The Fastest Critters on Earth [Slide Show]

Usain Bolt might be the world's fastest human but animals big and small would handily beat him
1 of 7


We might congratulate ourselves for our speed every four years at the summer Olympics. But even the fastest recorded sprinter , Usain Bolt, has maxed out at 37.6 kph (23.4 mph). That's only slightly faster than a quick camel ( Camelus dromedarius ), which can gallop along at 35.3 kph (22 mph).....[ More ]


  Another reason to not cross a lioness? She can run at least 80 kph (50 mph). Lions ( Panthera leo ), like tigers (but not bears—oh my!), tire quickly and can only hold their peak pace for less than a kilometer, due to their small heart size and difficulty breathing out of sync with their strides. ....[ More ]


  These graceful ruminants have been recorded darting as fast as 93 kph (58 mph). Entire herds of pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) can sustain speeds of 64 kph (40 mph) for at least half an hour, which would be long enough to tucker out any high-speed, sprinting predator .....[ More ]


  This super-fast big cat can reach sprint speeds of 104 kph (65 mph). The cheetah ( Acinonyx jubatus ) is the quickest land animal on record. Thanks to its flexible spine, it can take strides that are seven to eight meters (23 to 26 feet) long, with its hind legs sweeping out in front of its front legs in midair.....[ More ]


Speeding through the seas, sailfish ( Istiophorus albicans and I. platypterus ) have been recorded swimming as fast as 108 kph (67 mph). Their long bills improve fluid dynamics, and they can propel themselves out of the water in soaring jumps.....[ More ]


  The aptly named spine-tailed swift (or white-throated needletail, Hirundapus caudacutus ) has the fastest-recorded speed while flapping (rather than diving, like the falcon), flying along at 170 kph (106 mph).....[ More ]


The fastest animals on the planet use gravity—and exquisite aerodynamics—to reach their top speeds. The peregrine falcon ( Falco peregrinus ) has been recorded by radar diving at 185 kph (115 mph), and other tracking methods suggest that the birds can reach even higher speeds.....[ More ]

risk free title graphic

YES! Send me a free issue of Scientific American with no obligation to continue the subscription. If I like it, I will be billed for the one-year subscription.

cover image Subscribe Now
Share this Article:

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription
as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >


Email this Article