A spotted, slender, sleek, graceful, swift predator...an animal that hunts for its food, on the run. This particular cat is a diurnal hunter, which means that it hunts primarily during the day. Why? Because it uses its incredible running ability to catch a daily meal, and it needs to be able to see what it is running after. It's all about adaptations. That means there are special characteristics about each animal that help it live. One of the cheetah's adaptations, its claws, help make it the fastest running animal. Its claws help it catch its prey, which runs nearly as quickly to escape this running machine.
There are certain natural history facts that seem to be common knowledge. The elephant is the largest land animal, and most everyone seems to know that the fastest running animal on the planet is the cheetah. Cheetahs are built for speed. They can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and can reach 65 mph when chasing their favorite antelope prey.
A cheetah chase is not all that eager to be dinner, so when it is in a race with the worlds fastest land animal it just makes sense NOT to run in a straight line. Football players know this; they change direction often so they aren't tackled easily. But, the cheetah is ready for this tactic. Claws that stick out like a dog's give the cheetah traction in high speed turns. Even the cheetah's tail helps. Other cats have round, fluffy tails - like your house cat - but not the cheetah. Its tail has a flat surface, like the rudder of a boat, and it helps balance its body as the cheetah runs.
So the cheetah has speed licked. But there is another problem - stopping. When the antelope falls to the ground, tackled by the cheetah, the cat is still going 60 mph. The antelope isn't going to wait around if the cheetah flies by it. In order to stop immediately, the cheetah has a highly specialized, pointed pad in the back of each front leg. So, while going full speed, the cheetah can slam its two front legs down, hard. The pads tear into the ground bringing the cat to a near instantaneous halt. Then, it grabs its dinner before the antelope can get away. What a game of predator and prey. Both animals are equipped to survive. That is what the balance of life is all about.
Cheetah's, like most animals in a competitive environment, have other adaptations developed overtime to create their niche and ensure their survival.
Cheetah's great speed comes from their long stride and limber but muscular legs.This differentiates them from the other Cat families such as the lions and tigers.Other competitors include hyenas and wild dogs.The agility and high speed of a cheetah also allows them to attack alone, unlike the hyenas, lions and dogs who attack in packs.Their prey also differs in that they mostly are more slender and quicker animals.The gazelle, springbok, impala and antelope are common prey for the cheetah.
This means that they are also easier to chew and so only need smaller teeth but in turn cheetahs have a bigger nasal cavities that allow it to suck greater air needed as they sprint for their prey.Cheetahs have a high success rate when chasing prey but they do lose a significant amount of their catch to other larger animals such as the lion.It is not common for them to defend their kill.
Cheetahs other adaption is their color.Their variegated dark spots on a light background help camouflage them to some degree.
Have you noticed that footballers and other sportsman will have dark stripes under their eyes to prevent glare from either the Sun or bright lights? Well cheetahs have this too! Those black lines down their face are called "tear marks" and they are also to prevent glare from the hot overhead Sun.
Cheetah, Prince of the Jungle