Which are the fastest animals in the world? One thing’s for certain — it’s not humans.
Running scientists have found that man is more adapted, evolutionarily, to running long distances than almost every other animal.
Things that help are our lack of hair on the body, our ability to shed water through sweating and the fact we are able to keep from storing heat by breathing and panting.
We are also built with springy tendons in our legs, our feet can store energy and release it, our waists are thinner than most animals and our gluteus maximus muscles keep us upright and stable, providing more stability in running long distances.
Only a few animals can sustain long-distance running, especially at speeds that human athletes have achieved. Haile Gebrselassie, the legendary Ethiopian distance runner, averaged about 12 miles per hour when running a marathon.
But when it comes to short bursts of speed, humans don’t stand a chance against our animal cousins. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, can travel at around 30mph at his fastest.
But he would lose every race against the fastest animals in the world. Here we look at the fastest bird, the fastest land animal, the fastest fish and the fastest insect — and a selection of other amazingly fast animals.
Fastest animal (and fastest bird): Peregrine falcon (242mph)
It makes its nests in nearly every corner of the world, except extremely cold regions, very high mountains, and thick tropical rainforests.
Its name means “wander”, which is appropriate considering the fact that it is the most widespread bird of prey on the planet.
The Peregrine Falcon flies at around 25-34 mph when travelling at normal speed, and up to 69 mph in pursuit of a prey. But when it swoops its aerodynamics and sheer power can propel it to over 240mph.
Peregrine falcons mate for life and though territorial, they have adjusted to city living quite well, with a large number resident in New York City.
The second fastest bird is the golden eagle, which can reach speeds of up to 200mph when swooping.
Fastest land animal: Cheetah (75mph)
Cheetahs can accelerate from a standing position to 62 mph in just three seconds, faster than most supercars.
The cheetah is an extremely muscular animal, and also has large nostrils, allowing oxygen to be inhaled quickly, while its large heart and lungs all work together to circulate oxygen more efficiently to aid in its speed.
While chasing its prey, the cheetah’s respiratory rate increases from 60 to 150 breaths a minute.
Its semi-retractable claws and pads also give it excellent traction while running and its tail serves as a rudder to direct it in making sharp sudden turns when trying to catch its next meal.
Fastest fish: Black marlin (80mph)
They can grow more than 16ft in length and weigh up to 1,480lb. Their relatives the blue marlin can be even bigger, weighing up to 1,803lb.
They use their immense speed to catch their prey, which include other species of smaller fish and cephalopods (squid and cuttlefish).
The black marlin’s top speed was calculated when one was found to be able to strip fishing line of a reel at 120 feet per second (the equivalent of 80mph).
However, others sometime cite sailfish and swordfish as being the fastest fish in the world.
Sailfish have been clocked at speeds of 68mph while diving out the water, while it’s claimed swordfish can also reach speeds close to 80mph.
Fastest insect: Horsefly (89mph)
Horseflies are incredibly annoying when they bite you, and incredibly hard to catch when they do thanks to their extremely high speed.
A horsefly was estimated to have reached a top speed of 89mph while chasing an air rifle pellet during an experiment in 2000.
However, other scientists dispute the findings and claim the black cutworm holds the record as it can do 60-70mph on the ground.
Fastest flightless bird: Ostrich (60mph)
The Ostrich is the tallest, heaviest and fastest species on two legs of all living birds.
They can’t fly, but are natural runners and can run and jog at 30 mph for up to half an hour.
In a single stride, they can cover around 10 to 16 feet and can reach 45 to 60mph in short bursts.
Ostriches are muscular birds that can weigh up to 400 pounds and they can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Their feet have two toes, with a 4in claw which they use to fight off attackers.
They can eat almost anything because they have a gizzard – an organ in their digestive system which contains ingested grit and grinds up whatever they eat.
Ostriches are very social birds, gathering together in flocks of up to 100, although groups usually have around 10 members. They have a pecking order with a dominant pair.
Because Ostrich farming has become so popular and is so adaptable, they can now can be found all over the world. They are native to Africa, Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula.
Some other animals and their top speeds
African lion (50mph)
The African lion, found in sub-Saharan Africa, wouldn’t be known as the King of the Jungle if it couldn’t run fast.
But while a female can hold speeds of up to 50mph for up to two minutes, they still have to work together to surround and capture their food as many animals that they eat can outrun them when it comes to distance.
A pride of lions can hold fort over a territory as large as 100 square miles. And while male lions with their bushy manes may look the most impressive, it is the females that are the hunters.
The African lion enjoys woodlands, open plains, semi desert and thick bush environments.
They often feed on herds of animals, targeting weak members — often young, elderly or injured members of the group.
African wild dogs (44mph)
Also known as the Cape or Painted dog, African Wild Dogs live in packs that are dominated by a high ranking pair.
They are socially interactive, taking care of each other’s young and caring for the weak among them.
Each animal has its own unique markings and patterns, but features patches of red, black, brown, white, yellow fur, and big rounded ears.
Their general diet, including things like wildebeest and antelopes, has diminished with man encroaching on its hunting grounds.
As a result they have started feeding on livestock, meaning they are now a target for the human population in the areas of sub-Saharan Africa where they live.
The fact they can reach speeds of 44mph, and hunt in packs, means their prey often doesn’t stand a chance.
Free-tailed bat (60mph)
Free-tailed bats, also known as mastiff bats, are found on every continent in the world apart from Antarctica.
They are able to reach such high speeds mainly thanks to their tails, which help them to carry out extremely high-speed maneuvers in the air.
Free-tailed bats have relatively long and narrow wings compared to other bats, and vary from about 1.6in to 4.7in long excluding the tail.
They weigh anything from 0.28oz to 7.76oz. They live in various different habitats, but prefer places like cracks in rocks, hollowed-out trees or caves.
They eat insects, which they catch in mid-flight.
Anna’s hummingbird (61mph)
The Anna’s hummingbird are found on the west coast of North America, from southern Canada to Baja California.
They grow up to around 4.3in long, making them a mid-sized hummingbird.
While they spend most of their time hovering around flowers to feed on nectar, the males can reach speeds of up to 61mph when diving through the air.
They do this during courtship when trying to impress a female bird, as well as when trying to fend off rivals or other species which venture into their territory.
Pronghorn antelope (60mph)
The North American Antelope has the largest migratory groupings in America and is also the fastest North American land animal. If a cheetah were to chase one, it would tire out before the Pronghorn does.
Pronghorns can only actually reach 60mph for half a mile, but can sustain a speed of 42 mph for 1 mile and 35 mph for 4 miles. They got their name because their front horns contain prongs that point forward.
They are about 4.5ft long and 3ft tall, and weigh between 90 to 150 pounds. They have a lifespan of around 10 years and live in open fields, plains, grasslands, deserts, brush, and basins.
White-tailed jackrabbit (45mph)
Baby jackrabbits can run almost immediately after birth. Their muscular hind legs allow them to leap up to nearly 10ft and run faster than most of their prey.
They are nocturnal animals, feeding mainly from sunset to sunrise.
They are great swimmers and can dog-paddle with all four feet. They change color from one season to another to match their surroundings, except in southern climates.
Brown Hare (45mph)
The brown hare’s long, strong back legs allows them to reach speeds that can match their main predator, the red fox. T
heir long black-tipped ears aide in wind dynamics when they run.
They spend most of their days in small dents in the ground called ‘forms’, but wander out at night to feed on grass.
Brown hares are generally solitary animals, but they come together, loosely, to feed. They are far larger than a pet rabbit, weighing 6 to 8 pounds.
Quarter horse (47.5mph)
Quarter horses are descendants of the horses that were introduced to America by Spanish explorers. Later, they were bred with strong English “running horses”.
They generally weigh just under 1,500 pounds and are from 15 to 16 hands high.
They are very muscular, especially in their hindquarters, which is why they can sprint and run so swiftly.
The quarter horse has a short head and neck, with a long belly and short cannon bones.
Their good temperament and adaptability in any environment makes them the perfect animal to use in trail riding, for leisure riding, on the racetracks, in shows, and to work and breed on ranches.
You might also want to check out this list of the fastest land animals.