When it comes to speed in the animal kingdom, cheetahs are undoubtedly king. These animals can run up to 75 miles per hour and go from 0-60 in three seconds (or just three strides)—faster than sports cars such as Ferarris or Lamborghinis.
But how is it possible? At first glance, you would never guess that these skinny, long-legged cats are some of the most dangerous predators on the African savannah.
This clip above from Smithsonian explains the science behind the cheetah’s speed:
Aerodynamics and a lightweight frame enable this astonishing acceleration. Weighing in at only 125 pounds, its muscles don’t have to carry much weight, translating into acceleration instead, and the small head, flattened rib cage and slender legs minimize air resistance. Once it reaches top speed, unique design features sustain this speed. The cheetah has an extremely flexible spine, as well as pivoting hips, and shoulder blades that are not attached to the collar bone. This allows the front and rear legs to stretch further apart when fully extended and move closer together when the feet come under its body, increasing the cheetah’s stride length to an amazing 25 feet. The cheetah moves so quickly that its feet spend more time in the air than on the ground. Twice during each stride having all four feet off the ground at the same time. In a high speed chase, the long, muscular tale works as a stabilizing rudder. Even its feet are modified for speed. Unlike other cats, cheetah’s foot pads are hard and flat like tire treads and their short, blunt claws do not retract completely like lions and leopards. They’re designed for grip, like the cleats of a track shoe. These modifications provide the cheetah with increased traction and fast, sharp turns.