Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Speed of Animals
Nature Bulletin No. 215   January 30, 1982
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Elsenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

A few adult animals, such as sponges, sea anemones and oysters, sit like plants and wait for their food to come to them. Most animals, however, go after it and this frequently develops lento a speed contest between the hunter and Its prey. Foxes must be fast enough to catch rabbits; and rabbits, in turn, must be fast enough for some of them to escape. However, such speed trials are not run on race tracks or according to any rules of racing. The fox ls able to beat the rabbit on a straight-away, but the rabbit can dodge quicker and gain time by plunging through bushes and briars. Some animals win by short bursts of speed while others are noted for their endurance.

Accurate records of the speed of animals are rather scarce. The best measurements have been made in recent years by following them with an automobile or airplane and reading a speedometer, or by using movie cameras, stop watches and other devices.

The world's record for speed among living things Is best established for the Indian spine-tailed swift, a bird which was repeatedly clocked In level flight, over a carefully measured two-mile course, in as little as 3Z.8 seconds or 219 Mlles an hour. The European peregrine, a hawk used in falconry, was timed at 165 to 180 mph during its dive after quarry. In the United States, the golden eagle and the duck hawk can dive from high altitudes at similar speeds and the latter, In level flight, easily overtakes and seizes such swift birds as ducks and pigeons.

A few homing pigeons have averaged 60 mph over courses of a few miles and as much as 55 mph for 4 hours. The mourning dove and the golden plover have been chased by airplanes at 60 to 65 mph. Some ducks and geese can reach speeds of 55 to 60 mph or more, and the tiny hummingbird can do 50 to 55. Most birds habitually fly at speeds much less than their maximum. For example, crows commonly cruise at 20 to 30 mph but can speed up to 40 or 50. The distance endurance record is thought to be held by the Arctic tern which migrates to the Antarctic and back in about 20 weeks a distance of 20,000 to 22,000 miles.

In a foot race the cheetah or hunting leopard wins. It has been timed at 70 miles an hour during short bursts of speed in pursuit of gazelles and antelopes. It can overtake and pull down the blackbuck of India which is reputed to reach 65 mph. The pronghorn antelope of western United States has maintained 60 mph for two miles and 36 mph for 27 miles. The lion can charge at 50 mph over short distances. Even the largest of all land animals, the African elephant, with its stiff-legged trot could beat our best track stars in the dashes, while the rhinoceros can gallop neck and neck with a good horse for two miles.

Several strains of dogs have been bred for extreme speed. The fastest of all seems to be the saluki of Arabia, or the related Afghan hound, which can step out at 43 mph and overtake the fastest Arabian horse. Greyhounds and whippets sometimes reach 35 or 40 mph in dog races.

A man has run one Mile in a trifle over four minutes; a ridden horse In a little more than 1-1/2 minutes. The distance record for a horse ls reputed to be 100 miles in 8 hours and 58 minutes; for a racing camel (dromedary): 115 miles in 12 hours.

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