Science

5 fastest land animals on Earth

It’s normal to be curious about the fastest land animals on earth. After all, when we encounter an animal in the wild, our natural reaction is usually, “How fast can this thing run?”

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Assume that everything is faster than you. Most of them are. The average human adult runs at a speed of 10 to 15 mph, which is nothing compared to most animals in the wild. As we’ll review, there are a few land animals capable of running at truly blinding speeds.  

5. Thomson’s gazelle

Credit: Pierre-Olivier Valiquette / iStock

Top Speed: 43 mph

Thomson’s gazelle is a species of African gazelle most commonly found near the Serengeti. As a popular prey animal for the cheetahs, lions, hyenas and hunting dogs that populate the African plains, the Thomson’s gazelle had little choice over the course of its evolution: grow fast or die out. And grow fast it did, with modern Thomson’s gazelles reaching top speeds of 43 miles per hour.

This isn’t much compared to, say, cheetahs, which are significantly faster than any gazelle (see below). But gazelles have endurance on their side. Most predators can only sustain their highest speeds for short sprints—but should the gazelle escape the initial attack, it’s usually able to get away with its slower yet long-lasting running speed.

4. Quarter horse

Credit: georgeclerk / iStock

Top Speed: 55 mph

The quarter horse is one of the oldest horse breeds in the United States, bred for its speed, agility, and performance. Even its name refers to its capabilities. The name “quarter horse” comes from the horse’s success in racing across quarter-mile courses in 17th century Rhode Island and Virginia. Equestrians of the time realized that the quarter horse could outpace other famous racing breeds, such as the Arabian or thoroughbred. And given that the quarter horse can reach speeds up to 55 miles per hour, it’s not hard to see how. As its name suggests, it can’t maintain this speed for too long—but for short sprints, there’s no faster horse in the world.

3. Springbok

Credit: JurgaR / iStock

Top Speed: 56 mph

Springbok is a type of antelope native to South Africa. They’re small creatures, standing a little over four feet and weighing no more than 105 pounds. This small stature is one of its advantages, particularly when it comes to outrunning its main predators—cheetahs, wild dogs, hyenas, and leopards.

When it comes to speed, the springbok is hard to beat. Capable of sprinting at 56 miles per hour, herds of springbok are quick to react when danger comes close. They also have this strange habit called “pronking,” in which excited springbok will leap up to 13 feet in the air with their backs arched and their legs extended. We don’t know exactly why they do this, but it’s thought to be some type of warning signal for incoming danger.

2. Pronghorn antelope

Credit: rpbirdman / iStock

Top Speed: 61 mph

Like many others on this list, the pronghorn antelope is a prey animal, meaning that its incredible speed developed out of a need to outrun its faster rivals. And in North America, there are no animals capable of rivaling the pronghorn for speed.

Clocking in at an impressive 61 miles per hour, the pronghorn is easily able to outrun its biggest predators: wolves, cougars, coyotes and bobcats. But the real power of the pronghorn isn’t speed—it’s endurance. The pronghorn has an exceptional cardiovascular system capable of sustaining the antelope during long chases. It’s reported that the pronghorn can run at 35 miles per hour for up to four miles straight, well beyond the range of any predators sniffing around.  

1. Cheetah

Credit: Kandfoto / iStock

Top Speed: 70 mph

As you might have guessed, the fastest land animal on Earth is the cheetah. Its top speed ranges anywhere from 68 to 75 miles per hour (averaging somewhere around 70). It’s also capable of reaching this speed in the blink of an eye—a cheetah can go from standstill to 60 miles per hour in three seconds.

Like other members of the big cat family, cheetahs don’t have any natural predators (aside from us humans, that is). But unlike its cousins, cheetahs are the only big cat unable to roar. In fact, the cheetah’s hyoid bone (a throat bone that enables animals like lions to roar) is shaped more similarly to the common housecat than a lion or a jaguar. This means that, just like our domestic furry friends, cheetahs communicate mainly through growls, purrs, yelps, and hisses.

Fastest animals on Earth

Humans became the dominant form of life on earth for one reason: our intelligence. We have big brains, and as it turns out, that’s all we need to thrive. But from a physical perspective, we’re nothing compared to our animal counterparts. Look out the window the next time you’re on the highway, and imagine a cheetah running alongside your car. That’s what these things are capable of. Just be thankful you’re not a gazelle!