How can a cheetah run so fast?

Discover seven ways a cheetah is built for speed.

A cheetah can reach speeds of up to 87kph. © Mike Powles/Getty
1

Weight

Like a mammalian racing car, the cheetah has stretched the standard feline bodyplan to the limit. Adult males weigh 41–45kg on average, and females just 36–37kg.

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2

Tail

At 60–90cm, the muscular tail is half the head and body length. It acts like a counterbalance, aiding high speed manoeuvring.

3

Spine

The exceptionally long vertebral column has amazing flexibility, and as it flexes and straightens this boosts stride length.

4

Respiratory tract

To deliver oxygen fast to hard-working muscles, the entire respiratory tract is enlarged. During sprints the cat takes 150 breaths a minute, up from 60 at rest.

5

Skull and teeth

A high forehead and modified jaws give a vice-like grip to throttle prey. Short, sharp canines are designed for bolting down meat, not severing the spinal cord as in big cats.

6

Feet and claws

Grip is enhanced by reduced toe-webbing, so the toes splay widely, and by the lack of claw sheaths, meaning they stick out like running spikes even if retracted.

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7

Legs

Compared with other cats, all of the leg bones are stretched. The tibia and fibia are also fused to give more stability at speed, though this interferes with climbing.