Animal of the Month: August

The animal of the month is easy to guess, but a pretty amazing animal. I’m putting her up in honor of the Olympics. Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, sprints about 23 mph at his fastest. A cheetah can easily sprint up to 70 mph. Cheetahs can reach that top speed in only 3 seconds. Take that Usain!

Usain could pick up a tip or two from the cheetahs. They are one of the only cats without retractable claws (those would slow them down) and the only species in their genus.  Their claws are extended at all times, and act like running cleats, helping them get traction. The cheetah has a skeleton built for speed. It can move seven meters in one stride (the same as a horse), and they complete 4 strides per second (a horse completes about 2). This is made possible by their extra flexible spine, which acts like an archer’s bow to snap their legs back into to position with each stride.  They also have pivoting hips and shoulders that are not attached to their collar bone which assists their flexibility.

All Olympians know that oxygen is the most important thing to sprinters. The cheetah has a uniquely shaped head with enlarged nostrils, sinuses and lungs and an extra large heart to allow her to pump lots of oxygenated blood to her muscles. Their running respiratory rate is 150 breaths per minute, which is double that of a human.

They are also rich in fast twitch muscle fibers (in humans, some ethnicities have more of this type fiber than others). Fast twitch muscle fibers are more powerful and can work effectively in anaerobic conditions for a short period.

On top of all this, they are relatively light weight (about 75 lbs).  Lightweight runners are always faster!

On the downside, these guys are made to be sprinters.  Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, who won the Olympic gold  medal in the marathon, could easily beat these guys in an endurance run.  When a cheetah runs for any period longer than a few minutes, it can seriously overheat and starve its brain of oxygen.  This can immediately cause death or just cause them to wear out.  Its light weight makes it easy prey for predators when it’s overtired.  Even when it catches its prey, it’s prey easy pickings for those same predators, because the cheetah is exhausted from the hunt.

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