Since graduating university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and educator. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Speed is often a matter of survival in the wild. Many of the world's fastest animals are either hunters or prey. They either need to catch prey for sustenance or escape from predators in order to survive.
Most of the quickest animals run on four legs, but some move by hopping. These animals' top speeds are impressive, but in many cases, they can only be achieved over relatively short distances. Long-distance endurance is another matter entirely and outside the scope of this article, which ranks land animals by maximum short-distance sprinting speed.
Which Animals Can Run the Fastest?
- African Wild Dog
With the ability to run at speeds between 50 and 80 mph, the cheetah is the quickest of all land animals—at least over short distances. In addition to having a high top speed, this big cat also has an incredible rate of acceleration. Cheetahs are able to go from 0 to 60 mph (96.6 km/h) in less than three seconds.
The cheetah has limited endurance, however. It runs in short bursts and typically doesn't continue for more than a minute or so. Interestingly, a cheetah at full speed actually spends more of its time in the air than on the ground.
The pronghorn, also known as the American antelope, is the fastest land animal over long distances with the ability to run at 35 mph for up to 4 miles (56 km/h for 6 km). Over half a mile, it can achieve a sustained 55 mph (88.5 km/h). In short bursts, pronghorns can run up to 61 mph.
The pronghorn is faster than any potential predator in North America, prompting scientists to speculate that it evolved to run faster than hunters that no longer exist, such as the American cheetah, which existed during the Pleistocene epoch.
Springboks are exceptionally fast and can attain speeds of 55 mph (88 km/h) over short distances. They can also make sharp turns when running and jump up to 13 feet (4 m) through the air.
These antelopes can be found in southern Africa and are the only member of their genus, Antidorcas. Their name comes from the Afrikaans and Dutch words spring meaning "jump" and bok meaning "male antelope or goat." The springbok is the national symbol of South Africa, but unlike pronghorns, they don't have great endurance over long distances.
The wildebeest, like the pronghorn, is another exceptional runner with endurance. There are two species—the black wildebeest and the blue wildebeest—and both are exceptionally fast, especially over long distances.
These southern African antelopes, also known as gnus, need their speed to help them escape from dangerous predators, such as lions, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, and crocodiles. They can reach a maximum speed of around 50 miles per hour (80.5 km/h) when running.
Lions, the second-fastest big cats after cheetahs, are capable of moving at up to 50 mph (80.5 km/h) in short bursts. They quickly become exhausted, however, so they typically sneak up as close as possible to their prey before launching an attack.
Blackbucks inhabit the Indian subcontinent and are able to maintain speeds of 50 mph (80 km/h) for almost a mile (1.5 km).
Unfortunately, these antelopes have been classified as near-threatened by IUCN since 2003 due to declining range. When in full flight, each blackbuck stride measures 19–22 ft (5.8–6.7 m).
Hares belong to the same family as rabbits (Lepus) but have longer ears. They eat leaves, woodbark, stems, grass, fruit, and vegetables. They usually live on their own or in pairs.
Some hares can reach maximum speeds of up to 50 mph over short distances. Many can leap 10 feet (3 m) at a time, and some have even been known to attain 20-foot (6 m) leaps. Jackrabbits—a type of hare—run in a zigzag pattern combined with leaps to escape predators.
Greyhounds are the fastest breed of domesticated dog, having been bred by humans for coursing game and racing. Greyhounds are also popular as family pets. Racing greyhounds can attain maximum speeds of 46 mph (74 km/h). They also have incredible powers of acceleration over short distances—only cheetahs and pronghorns have them beat.
9. African Wild Dog
With the ability to run at 44 mph (71 km/h) in short bursts, African wild dogs usually catch their prey by chasing them to exhaustion. At a longer distance of up to 3 miles (4.8 km), these canines are still able to maintain speeds of 35–37 mph (56–60 km/h) Sadly, these Sub-Saharan African dogs have been classified as endangered by the IUCN due to habitat-reduction.
Kangaroos don't run; they hop, but they can do it at considerable speed. Utilizing their powerful hind legs, they normally hop at between 13 and16 mph (21–26 km/h), but they are capable of moving at up to 44 mph (71 km/h) over short distances if they need to.
Almost all kangaroos live in Australia (there is one genus, the tree-kangaroo, that is also found in Papua New Guinea). They are sometimes killed for meat or their leather hides or in order to protect grazing land.
Honorable Mention: Horse
First domesticated around 4000 BCE, horses have been a popular form of transportation for humans for hundreds of years. Their highly developed physiques enable them to employ speed to escape from predators. They also have a highly developed sense of balance.
Their need to quickly escape predators has also led to them evolving an interesting trait—the ability to sleep both standing up and lying down. The fastest recorded speed reached by a thoroughbred horse was 43.97 mph (70.76 km/h).
Other Fast Land Animals
- Onagers and Thompson's Gazelles can reach 43 mph (70 km/h).
- Coyotes, zebras, and tigers can move at up to 40 mph (65 km/h).
What Is the Maximum Running Speed for Humans?
Usain Bolt is the fastest human being ever recorded over a short distance, setting the 100-meter world record at 9.58 seconds. His absolute best speed has been calculated at 29.55 mph (47.52 km/h) during a 20-meter segment of his performance. Non-athletic humans tend to run at speeds of around 11 mph (18 km/h).
- Carwardine, Mark (2008). Animal Records. New York: Sterling. pp. 11, 43. ISBN 9781402756238.
- Nowak, Ronald M. (7 April 1999). Walker's Mammals of the World. JHU Press. p. 1193. ISBN 9780801857898.
- Knight, Kathryn (15 July 2012). "How Cheetahs Outpace Greyhounds". The Journal of Experimental Biology. 215 (14): i–i. ISSN 0022-0949. doi:10.1242/jeb.075788
- Vaughan, Terry; Ryan, James; Czaplewski, Nicholas (21 April 2011). Mammalogy. Jones & Bartlett Learning. ISBN 9780763762995.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Paul Goodman
Anezelwe Buthelezi on April 17, 2020:
A wildebeest in 4th I did not see that coming. Usain Bolt is that fast I am really impressed.
I like this on April 05, 2020:
I like this one! very interesting~^^
Blossom. A on September 21, 2019:
oscar trujillo on August 31, 2019:
the jaguar is 60mph
oscar on August 31, 2019:
were is the jaguar
john albert on April 20, 2019:
My teacher said I run like a cheetah well I im
Hunter’ Compton on February 27, 2019:
So cool Thanks
Not Telling You My Name on June 02, 2018:
Add on leopards you jackasses!
john on March 16, 2018:
Andrew Zepf on February 03, 2018:
Hate to break it to these Einsteins but jackrabbits ARE hares, not rabbits.