The Fastest Animals on the Planet

As observed in nature, some animals are amazingly fast while other animals are amazingly slow. When we think of a cheetah, we tend to think fast. No matter an animal's habitat or position on the food chain, speed is an adaptation that can mean the difference between survival or extinction. Do you know what animal is the fastest on land? How about the fastest bird or the fastest animal in the ocean? How fast is a human in relation to the fastest animals? Learn about seven of the fastest animals on the planet.

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Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon
A peregrine falcon flies the mountains of the Cantabrian coast in Spain in search of prey. These birds are the fastest animals on the planet.

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The absolute fastest animal on the planet is the peregrine falcon. It is both the fastest animal on the planet as well as the fastest bird. It can reach speeds of over 240 miles per hour when it dives. The falcon is a very adept hunter due in large part to its tremendous diving speed.

Peregrine falcons typically eat other birds but have been observed eating small reptiles or mammals, and under certain conditions, insects.

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Cheetah Running
Cheetahs are the fastest land animals, reaching speeds of up to 75mph.

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The fastest animal on land is the cheetah. Cheetahs can get up to approximately 75 miles per hour. There is no wonder that cheetahs are very efficient at catching prey due to their speed. Cheetah prey have to have a number of adaptations to try to avoid this speedy predator on the savanna. Cheetahs typically eat gazelles and other similar type animals. The cheetah has a long stride and a flexible body, both of which are ideal for sprinting. Cheetahs tire quickly so are only able to maintain their top speed for short sprints.

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Sailfish are among the fastest animals in the ocean.

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There is somewhat of a quandary concerning the fastest animal in the ocean. Some researchers say the sailfish, while others say the black marlin. Both can reach speeds of around 70 miles per hour (or more). Others would also put the swordfish in this category suggesting that they can reach similar speeds.

Sailfish have very prominent dorsal fins that give them their name. They are typically blue to gray in color with a white underbelly. In addition to their speed, they are also known as great jumpers. They eat smaller fish like anchovies and sardines.

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Black Marlin

Black Marlin
Black marlin are considered by some to be the fastest animal in the ocean.

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Also in contention for the fastest animal in the ocean, black marlin have hard pectoral fins and are usually found in the Pacific and Indian oceans. They eat tuna, mackerel and have been known to dine on squid. Like many in the animal kingdom, females are usually much larger than males.

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Swordfish, Cocos Island, Costa Rica.

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Swordfish can be found in the Pacific and Indian oceans as well as the Atlantic ocean. Like sailfish, these speedy fish have been known to travel at cruise speeds of one body length per second. The swordfish gets its name after its unique bill that resembles a sword. It was once thought that swordfish use their unique bill to spear other fish. However, rather than spearing other fish, they typically slice their prey to make them easier to catch.

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Bald Eagle

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Though not quite as fast as the peregrine falcon, eagles are able to reach diving speeds of approximately 200 miles per hour. This qualifies them as among the fastest animals in flight. Eagles are close to the top of the food chain and are often called opportunistic feeders. They will eat a wide variety of small animals (typically mammals or birds) based on availability. Adult eagles can have up to a 7-foot wingspan.

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Pronghorn Antelope

Pronghorn Antelope

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Pronghorn antelope are not quite as fast as cheetahs but are able to keep their speed over much longer distances than cheetahs. According to National Geographic, pronghorn can run at speeds exceeding 53 miles per hour. Compared to a sprinting cheetah, a pronghorn would be akin to a marathon runner. They have a high aerobic capacity so are able to efficiently use oxygen.

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How Fast Are Humans?

Humans can reach speeds of around 25 miles per hour.

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While humans can't reach anywhere near the speeds of the fastest animals, for comparison purposes, humans can reach top speeds of approximately 25 miles per hour. The average person, however, runs at a top speed of about 11 miles per hour. This speed is much slower than the largest mammals. The much larger elephant runs at a top speed of 25mph, while the hippopotamus and rhinoceros run at speeds of up to 30mph.

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Bailey, Regina. "The Fastest Animals on the Planet." ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2021, Bailey, Regina. (2021, September 2). The Fastest Animals on the Planet. Retrieved from Bailey, Regina. "The Fastest Animals on the Planet." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).