Cheetahs are built for speed. They have long, slender bodies; and small, aerodynamic heads and ears. With their spotted coats, long tails, and distinctive “tear stripes” that stretch from the corner of their eyes to the side of their noses, cheetahs are easy to recognize. A full grown adult cheetah weighs between 100 and 149 pounds, with body length of 3.5 to 4.5 feet, and a tail measuring 2 to 3 feet.
Because of their speed, (which can reach up to 64 mph), they are known as nature’s speed machines. They run in short bursts, at high speeds, but are not made for running long distances. In comparison, greyhounds run about 43 mph, and racehorses approximately 40 mph.
Cheetahs have very sharp vision due to a band of highly concentrated nerve cells in the center of their eyes, which is called a “visual streak.” In comparison to other predators, they rely more on their vision to spot and track prey.
They often survey their surroundings from tree limbs or termite mounds. They can see clearly up to a distance of 3 miles. The dark “tear stripes” near their eyes may help reduce sun glare, which would be useful as they mostly hunt during the day.
At about two-thirds of their total body length, the tails of cheetahs measure about 2 to 3 feet. They serve as an effective counterbalance, and also have flattened tips which function much like a rudder, allowing cheetahs to change direction quickly.
A cheetah’s full stride can cover up to 20 feet of distance. During a stride, there are two times when none of a cheetah’s paws are touching the ground – when both legs are contracted under their body, and when both are fully extended.
They have the ability to change their stride frequency as they reach higher speeds. The average is 2.4 strides per second at 20 mph, but at 38 mph, the average becomes 3.2 strides per second.
In comparison, greyhounds and racehorses maintain a constant stride frequency, with an average of 3.5 strides per second, and 2.25 strides per second, respectively.
The paws of cheetahs are narrower than other felines, and resemble those of dogs more than cats. Cheetahs do, however, run on their toes, just like other cats.
Other big cats have fully retractable claws, and rounded pads. A cheetah, however, has slightly curved claws, which lack a protective sheath, and are semi-retractable.
Their claws give them additional traction, as do the pads on their paws, which are hard like the rubber of a tire, and have folds.
A cheetah has enlarged respiratory organs to supply large amounts of oxygen to its muscles. They have larger nostrils, sinuses, lungs, and hearts in comparison to other big cats. Proportionally, the lungs, liver, and heart of a cheetah are three times larger than those of a lion.
Want to know more about nature’s speed machines? Check out the detailed gifographic below from Animagraffs.