On Locomotion Dynamics in Cheetahs

Per a recently published paper in Nature, it turns out the long held assumption that it’s the cheetahs’ remarkable speed that helps them in hunting is not entirely correct. Cheetahs that chase prey in the wild shows that it is their agility — their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions suddenly, and slowing down quickly — that gives those antelope such bad odds. From The New York Times summary:

Until now researchers had been able to gather data on the hunting habits of cheetahs only by studying the animals in captivity, or from direct — though relatively imprecise — observations of their movements in the wild. But Dr. Wilson and his team spent nearly 10 years designing and building a battery-powered, solar-charged tracking collar, one that uses an accelerometer, a gyroscope and G.P.S. technology to monitor the animal’s movements.

They attached these collars to five cheetahs in the Okavango Delta region and observed 367 of their hunting runs over six to nine months. The cheetahs ran as fast as 58 miles an hour, and their average speed was 33 m.p.h.. High-speed runs accounted for only a small portion of the total distance covered by the cheetahs each day, the researchers found.

They also found that a cheetah can slow down by as much as 9 m.p.h. in a single stride — a feat that proves more helpful in hunting than the ability to break highway speed records. A cheetah often decelerates before turning, the data showed, and this enables it to make the tight turns that give it an advantage over its fast and nimble prey.

A fascinating study on the land’s fastest mammal.

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