How can a cheetah run so fast?

Discover 7 ways a cheetah is built for speed. 

Cheetah running

A cheetah can reach speeds of up to 87kph © GP232/iStock



WEIGHT Like a mammalian racing car, the cheetah has stretched the standard feline bodyplan to the limit. Adult males weigh 41–45kg on average, and females just 36–37kg.

TAIL At 60–90cm, the muscular tail is half the head and body length. It acts like a counterbalance, aiding high speed manoeuvring.

SPINE The exceptionally long vertebral column has amazing flexibility, and as it flexes and straightens this boosts stride length.

RESPIRATORY TRACT To deliver oxygen fast to hard-working muscles, the entire respiratory tract is enlarged. During sprints the cat takes 150 breaths a minute, up from 60 at rest.

SKULL AND TEETH A high forehead and modified jaws give a vice-like grip to throttle prey. Short, sharp canines are designed for bolting down meat, not severing the spinal cord as in big cats.

FEET AND CLAWS Grip is enhanced by reduced toe-webbing, so the toes splay widely, and by the lack of claw sheaths, meaning they stick out like running spikes even if retracted.

LEGS Compared with other cats, all of the leg bones are stretched. The tibia and fibia are also fused to give more stability at speed, though this interferes with climbing.


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