5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

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5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

King Cheetah
A King cheetah has stripes and blotches instead of spots. Purestock/Getty Images

5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

Cheetahs are majestic animals that are revered for their speed and beauty. Holding the title as the fastest land animal, the cheetah moves with style and grace to catch speedy prey. Cheetahs make their home in the open savannas of Africa and in the plains of India, the middle east, and Asia. Historically, cheetahs were first tamed around 5,000 years ago and some were even used by humans in hunting expeditions. The most identifiable feature of a cheetah is its spots, but did you know that not all cheetahs have spots? Discover 5 surprising facts about cheetahs.

Fact 1: Some Cheetahs Have Stripes

Did you know that not all cheetahs have spots? As a result of a gene mutation, the king cheetah exhibits a coat pattern of blotches and stripes. The same mutation also alters the coat pattern of the tabby cat. Using DNA and skin samples from tabby cats and cheetahs, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and others were able to determine that the changes are due to a mutation in the Taqpep gene. According to researcher Greg Barsh, "Mutation of a single gene causes stripes to become blotches, and spots to become stripes." This discovery may help to answer questions about the origin, maintenance, and evolutionary significance of the development of patterns like stripes and spots in mammals.

Cheetah Facts

  • Fact 1: Some Cheetahs Have Stripes
  • Fact 2: Cheetahs Use More Than Speed to Capture Prey
  • Fact 3: There Are No Black Cheetahs
  • Fact 4: Cheetahs Have Large Eyes Due to Their Speed
  • Fact 5: Cheetahs Can't Taste Sweets

Sources:

  • Stanford University Medical Center. "How the sub-Saharan cheetah got its stripes: Californian feral cats help unlock biological secret." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 September 2012. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120920141147.htm).
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5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

Cheetah Running
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals, reaching speeds of up to 75mph. Credit: Jonathan & Angela Scott/AWL Images/Getty Images

Fact 2: Cheetahs Use More Than Speed to Capture Prey

A study conducted by Queen's University Belfast researchers has revealed that cheetahs use more than pure speed to capture their prey. They also employ chase tactics that are specific to the prey they are trying to capture. Speed and agility are common defense mechanisms used by animals living on the savanna. Cheetahs have the ability to match the escape movements of their prey during a chase. This enables cheetahs to capture more agile animals.

According to researcher Dr. Michael Scantlebury, "We have discovered that cheetahs first accelerate rapidly to get them close to the prey but then have to actively slow down to be able to match prey escape maneuverer. It is like a deadly tango between the hunter and the hunted, with one mirroring the escape tactics of the other." GPS and accelerometer data loggers were used to track and record the hunting behaviors of the cheetahs in the study.

Next > Fact 3: There Are No Black Cheetahs

Sources:

  • Queen's University, Belfast. "New insight into how Cheetahs catch their prey." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 September 2013. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130905085644.htm).
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5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

Black Leopard
Black leopard (Panthera pardus). Unlike cheetahs, some leopards have black coats. Mint Images - Frans Lanting/Mint Images/Getty Images

Fact 3: There Are No Black Cheetahs

A study conducted on 35 species of wild cats has uncovered a link between the development of patterns or markings such as stripes or spots and habitat. Cats that are more active at night, live in trees or dense environments are more likely to have complex patterns or markings. The researchers believe that these patterns evolved in order to provide camouflage for the animal.

Black Leopards But No Black Cheetahs

The study also provides an answer as to why there are black leopards but no black cheetahs. Leopards are able to survive in a wider range of habitats than cheetahs. Due to genetic variation, this adaptability has allowed different traits to be passed on to the leopard population as a whole. Since cheetahs live in open habitats like savannas, it would not be advantageous to inherit genes for a black coat trait. A black cheetah on the open grassland would easily be spotted by prey and other larger cats.

Next > Fact 4: Cheetahs Have Large Eyes Due to Their Speed

Sources:

  • University of Bristol. "Why the leopard got its spots." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2010. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019212914.htm).
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5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

Cheetah Close-up
Cheetahs have large eyes to see better when moving at a high rate of speed. Arco Christian/Getty Image

Fact 4: Cheetahs Have Large Eyes Due to Their Speed

University of Texas at Austin researchers have determined that body mass and maximum running speed are the two most important factors that determine eye size in mammals. Fast mammals such as cheetahs and horses have larger eyes for better vision when moving at a high rate of speed. This helps them to avoid collisions. This discovery challenges the previous thought that the main factor influencing mammalian eye size is the time of day when the animal is active. That is, whether an animal is nocturnal or diurnal.

Next > Fact 5: Cheetahs Can't Taste Sweets

Sources:

  • University of Texas at Austin. "Eye size determined by maximum running speed in mammals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2012. (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120502112606.htm).
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5 Surprising Facts About Cheetahs

Cheetah Licking
Due to a gene mutation, cheetahs and other cats can't taste sweets. Senchy/Moment Open/Getty Image

Fact 5: Cheetahs Can't Taste Sweets

Cheetahs, tigers, and domesticated cats have a dysfunctional gene that prevents them from tasting sweets. The gene that codes for the protein Tas1r2 was identified in domesticated cats, cheetahs, and tigers as the source of the problem. These and presumably other cats have an inability to respond to sweet carbohydrates as a result of deletions in the gene that normally synthesizes the protein Tas1r2. In other mammals, such as dogs and humans, the Tas1r2 protein is properly synthesized. As such, these mammals have functioning sweet taste receptors.

Next > Fact 1: Some Cheetahs Have Stripes

Sources:

  • Li, X., Li, W., Wang, H., Cao. J., Maehashi, K., Huang, L., Bachmanov, A.A., Reed, D.R., Legrand-Defretin, V., Beauchamp, G.K., Brand, J.G. Pseudogenization of a sweet-receptor gene accounts for cats’ indifference towards sugar. PLoS Genetics, 2005, 1(1): e3; http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.0010003