What Are the World’s Fastest Animals?

What Are the World’s Fastest Animals?

It is a little difficult to say which animal is the absolute fastest in the world — animals that live in water or have the ability to fly can hardly be tested alongside land based animals. Because speed is not always a benefit in the water or in the air, the absolute “fastest” moving animals in the world are mostly land based, though sailfish have been clocked at speeds as high as 68 mph, and marlin are known to travel at least as fast as 50 mph — both fast enough to crack our top five fastest land based animals.

If we were to include birds on this list, the top ten fastest animals in the world would be mostly winged creatures. The fastest moving animal (including fish and birds) is the peregrine falcon, some individuals have been seen travelling well over 200 mph.

The following maximum speed measurements (shown in miles per hour) are based on measurements recorded in laboratory situations over quarter-mile distances. There are some exceptions to this measuring standard — the world’s fastest lion was tracked during the act of a charge in the wild, and the measurement for the cheetah was taken over only about 100 yards. Some lists will show slightly different speeds — measuring speed is difficult, and trying to figure out an “average top speed” is even more difficult. Some animals are extremely fast in the short term, but by the quarter mile mark they have slowed considerably. But this top ten list of the world’s fastest animals is as close to authoritative as you can get.

10. Coyote — 43 mph

The coyote is a species of wild dog. That’s right, a regular canine just like your family pet. The big difference is that our canines have been domesticated over time, and while it is possible to domesticate a coyote, not many people want to spend enough time near one to get the job done. Coyotes are native to North America, and extend from Mexico all the way to Canada. It isn’t just their speed that’s impressive — coyotes are capable of jumping up to fourteen feet in a single leap. Nice doggy.


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9. Elk — 45 mph

Don’t let their massive size fool you — elk are really just a gigantic species of deer. Travelling in packs of fifty or more, the sight of a herd of elk blazing by at forty-five mph must be incredible. These quarter-ton monsters use their quick speed as a defense mechanism, especially the females of the species which lack the horns of males.

8. Cape hunting dog — 45 mph

This dog breed has dozens of nicknames, from Painted Dog to Wildehond. The Cape hunting dog earns the distinction of world’s fastest dog. They are unique in other ways, too — the Cape has a strange looking coat, earning it the “Painted” nicknames, and its bite is considered the strongest of any canine. Their similarity to hyenas includes the ability to eat large quantities of bone (thanks to a massive mouth full of teeth) and a pack hunting mentality that makes these dogs eerily good matches for hunters. Their top speed of 45 mph makes them adept at catching nearly every type of game found in their native Africa.

7. American Quarter Horse — 47.5 mph

The Quarter Horse breed is known as the sprinter of horses. While their official top speed sits right at 47.5 mph, some individuals have been clocked going as high as 55 mph. But don’t think the Quarter Horse is just for show — their abilities on the farm make them an excellent ranch horse as well. The evolution of the Quarter Horse starts in the cowboy era, as ranchers needed a quick and responsive horse to steer their herds. Interest in the sport of “rodeo” (developed by the appearance of Quarter Horses on the ranch) further escalated the breeding of these beautiful (and blazingly fast) creatures.

6. Springbok — 50 mph

A distinctive black stripe on the coat sets this species of antelope apart from the dozens of others. This African antelope is known for two things — incredible speed and ponking. What’s “ponking”? I’m glad you asked. Apparently, Springboks like to jump really high in the air (as much as fifteen feet) and flail their bodies around in the air before landing back on their hooves and doing it all over again. Scientists have no idea why they do this. Springboks use their speed (like most African mammals) as their main defense mechanism, and most animals simply can’t keep up at distance.

5. Wildebeest — 50 mph

Also known as a “gnu”, the Wildebeest looks like a cross between an antelope and a cow, with all the speed of the antelope and all the brains of a cow.

4. Thomson’s gazelle — 50 mph

Many people get the Thomson’s gazelle and the Springbok confused. The confusion is understandable — they look remarkably similar and are in the same family. They travel at the same top speed, though some Thomson’s in the wild have been clocked at well over 60 mph.

3. Lion — 50 mph

One of the four main “big cats”, and weighing well over a quarter ton, the lion truly is “the king of the jungle” — he’s just not the fastest.

2. Pronghorn antelope — 61 mph

This list is heavily populated by antelopes, and it makes sense. The antelope uses its speed as its main weapon against predators. With creatures in Africa zipping around at speeds well over 40 mph, having the ability to kick it into high gear at 61 mph is about the best protection you can have.

1. Cheetah — 70 mph

Coming in at number one, the fastest animal in the world is the cheetah. In 2009, a female cheetah in captivity became the world’s fastest of all land mammals. Her name is Sarah, and she covered 100 meters distance in a record time of 6.13 seconds. What cheetahs have in speed, they lack in dexterity. Cheetahs can’t climb with the skill of the other cats, so their speed makes up for this inability.

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