World's fastest animal (faster than a Ferrari!?)

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key point:
  • Peregrine falcons can descend at an astonishing 242 mph.
  • Fastest insect? If you thought that was the pesky housefly, you'd be right.
  • Surprisingly, the fastest mammal (not on land) is the creepy Mexican free-tailed bat, which can reach speeds of up to 99 mph.

What is the fastest animal in the world? The answer is not simple. Earth is not just made of land. All the different environments need to be considered and the many factors that affect movement in each environment, such as gravity, friction, wind, and animal size, etc., must be taken into account.

For starters, researchers have yet to calculate the speed of every Earth species. In addition, there is still some disagreement in the scientific community about the methodology used in some of the current rankings. While some of the findings may be debatable, we'll take a look at the fastest animals in the world, and the runners up.

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Fastest Bird: Peregrine Falcon – 242 MPH Top Speed

The peregrine falcon ( Falco peregrinus ), also known as the duck eagle, is the fastest animal in the world. Known as "living missiles," these falcons are ubiquitous except in extreme polar regions and New Zealand, and can dive at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. The highest measured descent rate for a peregrine falcon to date is 242 miles per hour. When they're not hunting, peregrine falcons glide at speeds of 40 to 60 miles per hour.

A large keel, pointed wings, strong feathers, and an excellent respiratory system all contribute to the peregrine's speed. Its large keel adds flapping power; its pointed wings create a streamlined wing effect; and the animal's stiff, thin feathers reduce drag. The peregrine's lungs and air sacs also have unidirectional airflow, and the air sacs remain inflated even when exhaling, allowing for optimal oxygen distribution. Plus, the bird's heart rate of 600 to 900 beats per minute means they can beat their wings up to four times per second, increasing their strength and reducing fatigue.

In addition to their lightning-fast diving speed, these falcons also had the fastest visual processing speed of any animal tested. They can spot prey from a kilometer away! Look at it another way: if you showed humans a series of still pictures at 25 frames per second, we'd see a smooth "movie". For the Peregrine to experience the same "cinematic" effect, 129 frames per second would be required.

The IUCN currently lists the peregrine falcon as "least concern". However, the species is not always clear. The pesticide DDT has all but wiped them out. During the 20th century, the species suffered heavy casualties from chemicals and was listed on the US Endangered Species List. However, Falcon was removed from the list in 1999 due to DDT restrictions and other protections.

Visit the Falcon Encyclopedia page to learn more.

Peregrine Falcon - Falconiformes - fastest animal on Earth
Also known as "living missiles," peregrine falcons are found worldwide except in extreme polar regions and New Zealand, and can dive at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.

FASTEST LAND ANIMAL: Cheetah — 70 MPH top speed

The cheetah ( Acinonyx jubatus ), found in North, South and East Africa, holds the title of fastest land animal. Natural sprinters, cheetahs can run at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Even more impressive, this feline can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just three seconds! This is more powerful than a sports car!

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Several physiological factors make cheetahs speed demons. First, they are the slenderest of the big cats, with long legs and small, lightweight heads. These factors make the Cheetah an aerodynamic generator. Also, when cheetahs run, they don't move their heads, which increases their aerodynamic performance.

However, the cheetah's spine is key to the animal's speed. They are long, very flexible, and act as spring coils, allowing the animal to maximize each stride. Finally, cheetahs have a high proportion of what mammalologists call "fast-twitch fibers" in their muscles, which enhance their strength and speed.

However, cheetahs cannot maintain high speeds for long periods of time. They are sprinters, not marathoners. It can take a cheetah 30 minutes to recover from a 330-foot outburst, which is about the length of a football field.

The largest cheetahs reach 136 cm (53 in) tall, 149 cm (4.9 ft) long and weigh between 21 and 72 kg (46 and 159 lb).

Currently, the IUCN lists cheetahs as "vulnerable." Due to heavy poaching, hunting and habitat destruction during the 20th century, the cheetah population has declined to about 7,100 individuals. Additionally, cheetahs are routinely exploited in the illegal pet trade, and climate change is proving devastating to the species.

Learn more on our Cheetah Encyclopedia page.

Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubatus) - fastest land animal
Cheetahs can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just three seconds, but can't maintain that speed for long.

Fastest Land Animal (Long Distance): American Oryx – Top Speed 55 MPH

You must be wondering how this animal made the list when the cheetah is noticeably faster. Well, a cheetah may be fast when hunting, but how long can it maintain that speed and still be the fastest? The answer is not long. While the cheetah may be the fastest animal in the world to walk short distances on land, the American antelope (also known as the pronghorn) can maintain that speed for longer periods of time.

Native to North America, the American oryx is the only surviving member of the Antilocapridae family and is the only species known to shed its branch horns annually. They are also known for the white patch on their rump, which makes them easy to spot. They grow to 4.5 feet long, 3 feet tall, and weigh between 90 and 150 pounds. They also have very large eyes and very clear vision, which help them spot predators. Pronghorn can leap up to 20 feet when jumping.

Pronghorn Antilocapra americana, the fastest mammal in North America, two stags running at high speed on the savannah.
Pronghorn Antilocapra americana, the fastest mammal in North America, two stags running at high speed on the savannah.

© Tom Reichner/Shutterstock.com

Fastest Mammal: Mexican Free-tailed Bat – Top Speed 99 MPH

The latest controversial fast animal Hall of Famer is the Mexican free-tailed bat, also known as the Brazilian free-tailed bat ( Tadarida brasiliensis ). The Mexican free-tailed bat is found in North and South America and is the official flying mammal of the state of Texas. They mainly live in caves and sometimes in buildings with external ceiling passages.

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In 2009, researchers conducted a Mexican free-tail speed test by attaching navigation tags to several animals. The scientists then followed the subjects with an airplane and recorded a bat whizzing horizontally through the air at 99 miles per hour. The results catapulted the Mexican free-tailed bat to the top of the list of fastest mammals.

However, not everyone is confident in the results. Some have disputed this claim because the test was not adjusted for wind and ground speed. Also, the results allow for a margin of error of 50 to 100 meters.

If the Mexican free-tailed bat loses its speed record, the animal still holds the top spot for bats: It can fly higher than any other member of its order Chiroptera . This winged mammal can cruise at an altitude of 3,300 meters.

Mexican free-tailed bats are typically about 3.5 inches long and weigh between 0.25 and 0.42 ounces.

The IUCN classifies Mexican free-tailed bats as "least concern," but that doesn't tell the whole story. Mexican free-tailed bat populations are rapidly declining due to increased habitat destruction. California lists it as a "species of particular concern."

Read more about the amazing abilities of bats here.

Mexican free-tailed bat - the fastest mammal
Mexican free-tailed bats can fly at an altitude of 3300 meters.

Fastest Aquatic Animal: Black Marlin – Top Speed 80 MPH

The fastest fish is black marlin ( Istiompax indica ). Inhabitants of the tropics and subtropics of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, fast fish can travel up to 80 miles per hour. In contrast, black marlins swim faster than cheetahs. To record their speed, the researchers measured how fast the fishing line came off the reel when the angler caught one.

Several physical characteristics make the black marlin fast. Their long, thin, pointed beaks — ideally shaped to cut through the water quickly — and stiff pectoral fins are very aerodynamic. Additionally, they can deftly manipulate their crescent-shaped tails to generate power.

In addition to being fast swimmers, black marlin can swim great distances. An animal with a tracking tag in California was caught 10,000 miles away in New Zealand!

Black marlin can also dive to depths of 2,000 feet, but usually never dip below 600 feet – the longest ever recorded is 15.3 feet.

According to the IUCN, black marlin is "data deficient," meaning there isn't enough information to adequately assess the species' conservation status. Regardless, they are commercially fished and considered prized game.

black marlin
Black marlin live in tropical and subtropical regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans and can travel at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.

©keldallfall/Shutterstock.com

Fastest Insect: Male Horsefly – Top Speed 90 MPH

The horsefly ( Tabanus sulcifrons ), also known as the gadfly, currently tops the list of the fastest insects. Horseflies are found all over the world except Iceland, Greenland and Hawaii, and they can reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour — but the males are faster than the females.

As with the Mexican free-tailed bat, researchers dispute the state of speed in the horsefly. University of Florida scientist Jerry Butler came up with a result of 90 miles per hour. However, some argue that his method allows for erroneous conclusions. Those who reject Butler's findings generally list the desert locust ( Schistocerca gregaria ) as the fastest insect, with a reliable 21 miles per hour.

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We should note that the speed of insects has not been studied extensively by scientists. Therefore, the status of the horsefly can easily be changed.

At the end of the 19th century, American entomologist Charles Townsend claimed that the speed of the deerfly ( Cephenemyia stimulator ) could reach 1287 kilometers per hour. That's faster than the speed of sound! But other entomologists burst Townsend's bubble after advances in tracking technology led to better research. They demonstrated that the deer fly can only reach speeds of around 25 miles per hour.

Horseflies are between 0.2 and 1.0 inches long—about half the length of a golf tee. The maximum wingspan can reach 2.4 inches.

Horse flies are so abundant that they have no IUCN classification.

The fastest insect - the male horsefly
The male horsefly is considered by some to be the fastest insect in the world, possibly reaching speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.

Nearly 9 million species inhabit the Earth. Some are fast, some are slow. Some are big, some are small. But one thing we share is the same planet. So take the time to read about other species – because the more you know, the better guardian of the planet you'll be!

Fastest Snake : Rattlesnake Top Speed 18 mph

If you're wondering what the fastest snake in the world might be, it's the rattlesnake, capable of reaching speeds of up to 18 mph. The reason they move faster than any other snake is their unique way of locomotion. They use their bodies to create ridges in the sand and then use their bodies to push them. This movement leads to their incredible speed. This ability also lies in the rattlesnake's scales, which have a rough, sturdy texture. This adaptation helps the snake move across the hot sand of its desert habitat.

Visit our endangered animal listings page to learn more about which species need your help the most!

Top 5 Fastest Animals In The World Summary

You learned it here! But let's review the top 5 fastest animals in the world:

rank animal Classification extreme speed
1 peregrine falcon bird 242 mph
2 cheetah land animals 70 mph
3 American antelope land animals 55 mph
4 mexican free-tailed bat mammal 99 mph
5 black marlin water animals 80 mph
6 male horse fly insect 90 mph

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Fast and agile cheetah

© JonathanC Photography/Shutterstock.com


about the author


Lex is a green, tree-loving animal lover and mother of 21 felines and a dog. Now, she helps pet owners around the world become the best caretakers for their most trusted pets by sharing experiences and spreading love.

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