If asked which animal in the world was the fastest runner, most people would respond the cheetah. While it is well known that a cheetah is one of the fastest, if not the fastest running animal on the planet, the highly evolved biomechanisms that allow for 0-60mph acceleration in 3 seconds are sometimes overlooked. Basic anatomical adaptations include a small head for aerodynamics, large eyes facing frontward for focusing on prey, and enlarged nostrils for greater intake of oxygen. The slender legs allow for spring-like action that helps acceleration, and the slender build in general lets the cheetah sprint at top speeds of 70mph.
While these adaptations are physically visible, and surely important for the great sprinting capabilities of a cheetah, there are also internal, more intricate characteristics that are less obvious. The spine of a cheetah is very long, and extremely flexible. This allows spine flexion to provide elasticity and full extension during sprints. The legs of a cheetah are directly underneath its body allowing the scapula to rotate until the forelimbs and hindlimbs overlap. With these extreme adaptations, cheetahs can sprint at top speeds far higher than most of their prey, however they successfully catch their prey only 25-35% of the time. Why do you think such a fast animal often fails in pursuit of slower prey?
Posted by Steven Yu (C)
Maybe it is possible that they aren't discrete enough when attacking their prey. If cheetahs take on large prey, they could be also equipped with special adaptations such as large body size or tusk size. Other than the low prey capture rate, could there be trade-offs to this highly evolved adaptation of speed?ReplyDelete
The cheetahs are generally camouflaged into their environment quite well, they stay low to the ground in tall grasses and blend in perfectly. The larger prey absolutely can defend itself sometimes with horns, antlers, or tusks, but smaller prey have another helping factor: quickness. Small prey can quickly run to the side while the extreme speed of the cheetah propels it straight forward from the built momentum. A trade-off for the high speed is low stamina. While cheetahs can intake larger-than-average amounts of oxygen, and their flexible spine and long thin legs and tendons provide some elasticity, they still consume huge amounts of energy while sprinting.Delete
It is a very interesting post Steven! I think when cheetah is trying to approach to prey animals, it will be usually from a far distance. So that the prey animal could be able to escape or use its camouflage advantages and disappear in the environment very quickly. With the extreme acceleration speed, cheetah will be able to catch up its prey from 1 mile away in seconds.ReplyDelete
-Posted by Yim Hui
I think it is fascinating how the spine is actually more flexible, allowing them to run faster! There could be a variety of reasons that they are not able to catch all their prey. First of all, the cheetahs may be fast sprinters, but perhaps they are less skilled at running distance. Secondly, their prey may also run very fast,and the distance gap may just be too much to bridge for the cheetah, even with its speed. In any case, 35% is still an extremely high rate of success for any predator.ReplyDelete
You are definitely on the right track. The cheetah is terrible at running distance, their stamina is very low and they cannot maintain those high speeds for very long. However, the cheetah generally uses its camouflage to approach their prey until a close distance. They still fail at catching the prey about 70% of the time mainly because their high speeds propel them forward so strongly, and their smaller prey is much quicker, while their larger prey is equipped with camouflage, herds, and sometimes horns, antlers, or tusks.Delete
I would want to know which animals a cheetah typically prey on. Some animals may use camouflage or speed of their own to their advantage. Other animals may gather in groups and diffuse the attention of the cheetah in many directions to distract it. Great information about the anatomy of the cheetah by the way.ReplyDelete
Posted by, Kevin Barisano
I had no idea how fast cheetahs actually are! Do you know of any other animals in the cat family who have almost the same statistics as the cheetah. What caused the cheetah to evolve this way?ReplyDelete
Posted by: Lindsey Janof
I have always enjoyed when biological adaptations are described in a mechanistic way, so this was a great read! I'm curious about the statistic at the end of the post stating their hunting success rate. While this number seems low it would be interesting in comparison to success rates of other large cats. Are cheetahs worse for some reason?ReplyDelete
Posted by Tim Daly