Cheetah's acceleration, not speed, power key to their success

Jun 12, 2013 by Seth Borenstein
Wild cheetah with an RVC Wildlife Collar. Credit: Structure & Motion Lab, RVC.

Everyone knows cheetahs are blazingly fast. Now new research illustrates how their acceleration and nimble zigzagging leave other animals in the dust and scientists in awe.

Researchers first determined that cheetahs can run twice as fast as Olympian on a straightaway. Then they measured the energy a cheetah muscle produces compared to body size and calculated the same for Bolt, the . They found the cheetah had four times the crucial kick power of the Olympian.

That power to rapidly accelerate—not just speed alone—is the key to the cheetah's hunting success, said study lead author, Alan Wilson. He's professor of locomotive at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London.

"Capturing prey seems to come down to maneuvering," he said. "It's all the zigzagging, ducking and diving."

Wilson and colleagues put specialized tracking collars on five of these animals in Botswana, Africa.

They clocked cheetahs topping out at 58 mph (93 kph)—slightly less than the 65 mph (104 kph) measured for a cheetah once in 1965. Wilson said most hunts were done at more moderate speeds of 30 mph (48 kph), but with amazing starts, stops and turns.

The way cheetahs pivoted and turned while sprinting was amazing, he said. A cheetah can bank at a 50-degree angle in a high-speed turn, while a motorcycle can do maybe 45 degrees, Wilson said.

"If you are trying to catch something, the faster you go, the harder it is to turn," he said.

David Carrier, a University of Utah biology professor who wasn't part of the study, said one of the amazing things about the research is that it focuses on an ability of that many people overlook. They are too fixated on the sheer speed of this fastest animal on the planet, he said.

Almost as important, Carrier said, was the new tracking method—using existing technology in new ways.

"Technically this is a big step forward," he said. "These guys have completely changed the standard for how we monitor locomotive performance in the field."

Explore further: DNA samples from fungi collections provide key to mushroom 'tree of life'

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12295

Related Stories

How cheetahs outpace greyhounds

Jun 21, 2012

Cheetahs are the high-performance sports cars of the animal kingdom, but how do they outstrip other elite athletes when using the same sprint technique? Penny Hudson, Sandra Corr and Alan Wilson from the Royal Veterinary ...

India halts plan to ship cheetahs from Africa

May 09, 2012

India's Supreme Court has halted a plan to re-introduce cheetahs to the country by shipping animals over from Africa after experts said the idea was "totally misconceived".

Conservationists to CITES: Stop trade in wild cheetahs

Mar 08, 2013

The Wildlife Conservation Society, Zoological Society of London, and Endangered Wildlife Trust have joined representatives from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered ...

Cheetahs in race to survive

Apr 24, 2013

The cheetah, the world's fastest land animal, survived mass extinction during the last ice age 10,000 years ago.

Recommended for you

Estuaries protect Dungeness crabs from deadly parasites

12 hours ago

Parasitic worms can pose a serious threat to the Dungeness crab, a commercially important fishery species found along the west coast of North America. The worms are thought to have caused or contributed to ...

An evolutionary heads-up—the brain size advantage

12 hours ago

A larger brain brings better cognitive performance. And so it seems only logical that a larger brain would offer a higher survival potential. In the course of evolution, large brains should therefore win ...

Our bond with dogs may go back more than 27,000 years

May 21, 2015

Dogs' special relationship to humans may go back 27,000 to 40,000 years, according to genomic analysis of an ancient Taimyr wolf bone reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 21. Earlier genome ...

Social structure 'helps birds avoid a collision course'

May 21, 2015

The sight of skilful aerial manoeuvring by flocks of Greylag geese to avoid collisions with York's Millennium Bridge intrigued mathematical biologist Dr Jamie Wood. It raised the question of how birds collectively ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.