When we think about the fastest animals, the first one that comes to mind is the cheetah. Regarded as the fastest animal in the world, they are stunning examples of raw speed. However, there is an animal that could give them a run for their money – the pronghorn. Pronghorns are unique antelope-like animals known as the fastest animal in North America. But which is truly the faster animal? Join us as we compare the two and discover everything you need to know about pronghorn vs cheetah.
Comparing Cheetah vs Pronghorn
The fastest recorded speed of any cheetah in the world is 61mph. This incredible speed was created by an 11-year-old cheetah named Sarah, who ran 100 meters in 5.95 seconds in a specially set up time trial in 2012. However, wild cheetahs are estimated to reach even higher speeds – around 70mph – while hunting. Cheetahs also have incredible acceleration and can reach maximum speed in just 3 seconds!
Regarding pronghorns, their maximum speed is estimated to be 60mph. Although it would be easy to assume that cheetahs must be the faster animal, this is not necessarily true, and this is because cheetahs are most effective over short distances. So – although they live in completely different countries, the question is whether a cheetah can manage to outrun a pronghorn. Read on as we discuss the key features of both animals and decide which ones have the advantage.
|26 – 37 inches at the shoulder
43 – 59 inches long
46 – 158 pounds
|31 – 39 inches at the shoulder
51 – 59 inches long
75 – 143 pounds
|Streamlined body, long tail, hard paw pads, semi-retractable claws
|Cushioned cloven hooves, long back legs
|1.5 liters in 23 seconds / ~3 liters/minute
|6 – 10 liters per minute
The 5 Key Differences Between Pronghorns and Cheetahs
Cheetah vs Pronghorn: Physical Appearance
When we look at a cheetah, it is easy to see why they can achieve such incredible speeds – they are slick, streamlined hunters. Virtually every part of their body helps to give them some advantage. Their long tails are used for balance while running and act like a rudder, enabling them to make split-second turns while chasing down prey. Cheetahs also have hard paw pads rather than soft ones, which give them added grip. Additionally, they have incredibly unique claws – they are the only cat family member without fully retractable claws. Instead, they have a genus – Acinonyx – entirely to themselves. As surprising as it might be, cheetahs actually have blunt claws, which are semi-curved and only semi-retractable. This allows their claws to act as running spikes and gives them extra traction while running.
On the other hand, Pronghorns might not look as quite as adapted as cheetahs for running at fast speeds, but they still have a few things that help them out, and one of their major adaptations is their hooves. Pronghorns are cloven-hoofed (the same as cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, giraffes, and antelopes), and each foot has two long, pointed sections. These two toes are incredibly well cushioned, which – along with their long, powerful hind legs – helps them to spring forward for each stride to great effect. Although not so much a physical adaptation, pronghorns also tend to run with their mouth wide open, which helps them to get the maximum amount of oxygen into their bodies to fuel their muscles (more on this later). Advantage: Cheetah
Cheetah vs Pronghorn: Stride Length
One of the most important factors determining the speed of an animal is how much ground it can cover with every stride. Both pronghorns and cheetahs can cover immense stretches of ground in a single stride, yet most accounts give pronghorns the edge. Cheetahs can cover 23 feet per stride. Incredibly, cheetahs spend more than half of the time sprinting airborne with all four feet up off the ground, enabling them to achieve such a long stride. However, despite this, pronghorns still manage to cover 29 feet per stride. Advantage: Pronghorn
Cheetah vs Pronghorn: Sustained Speed
While we know that cheetahs can attain a higher maximum speed, raw speed alone isn’t quite everything. Instead, endurance also plays a part and can be incredibly important when hunting or outrunning predators. Although incredibly fast, cheetahs can only run in short sprints – they cannot sustain their top speed over a long distance. Before stopping, cheetahs can maintain top speed for approximately 20 to 30 seconds – or around 500 yards (0.28 miles). This means that if a hunt goes on for longer or further, it will usually be unsuccessful.
However, although pronghorns also can’t maintain top speed, they can maintain a high speed for much longer. Pronghorns can maintain a speed of around 30 mph for up to 20 miles. This means that they are capable of outrunning pretty much any predator. Advantage: Pronghorn
Cheetah vs Pronghorn: Muscles
One of the keys to being able to move around is because of the way that our muscles work, and it’s the same for animals. All skeletal muscles contain muscle fibers which can be divided into two types – “fast-twitch” and “slow-twitch.” However, not everyone has an equal amount of fast or slow-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscles provide powerful forces which are most useful for short, fast bursts of energy, although the downside is that they tire quickly. Fast-twitch muscles are mainly anaerobic and therefore don’t require as much oxygen. Cheetahs contain many fast-twitch muscles (around 20% more than other fast-moving animals), which is why they are suited for short bursts of speed but cannot maintain it over a distance.
Slow-twitch muscle fibers are essentially the opposite of fast-twitch. Slow-twitch muscles provide smaller forces that can be sustained over a long period. They are aerobic and require a lot of oxygen. However, they are resistant to fatigue, so they don’t tire as quickly. Slow-twitch muscles are more suited to endurance rather than sprinting. Pronghorns contain more slow-twitch muscle fibers, meaning they can run for long distances without tiring.
Cheetah vs Pronghorn: Lung Capacity
Another factor affecting the speed and distance that pronghorns and cheetahs can run is their lung capacity and the amount of oxygen they can inhale per minute, which also affects the muscles. We’ve already explained how each animal is uniquely adapted in ways we can see, but both are well adapted on the inside. Both have much larger hearts, lungs, and windpipes than you might expect for their size, allowing maximum air intake.
Studies have shown that pronghorns can take between 6 and 10 liters of oxygen per minute. Incredibly, this is around five times more than other mammals of a similar size. Taking in as much oxygen as possible is essential for pronghorns as their slow-twitch muscles require large amounts of oxygen to perform at their best. Another way that they are uniquely adapted is that they have one-way lungs, which means that they can inhale air continuously as it exits their lungs via a different route.
Although no studies provide a direct comparison for cheetahs – given that they run at maximum speed for much less than one minute – other studies show that cheetahs can only take in a maximum of 1.5 liters of oxygen in a 23-second sprint. This gives an estimation of circa 3 liters of oxygen per minute, which is far, far less than that of pronghorns. Surprisingly, cheetahs still take in a lot of oxygen during a sprint – despite their fast-twitch muscles not requiring the same oxygen level that pronghorn muscles require. Cheetahs breathe between 60 and 150 times per minute to achieve this oxygen intake. Advantage: Pronghorn
Cheetah vs Pronghorn: Which is Faster?
Looking at the above points, it would seem that pronghorns have many advantages over cheetahs. However, cheetahs are easily the best regarding raw speed alone, and they have incredible acceleration and can achieve maximum speed in only a few seconds. Therefore, cheetahs are faster than pronghorns when it comes to a sprint. But when it comes to endurance and a race over a longer distance, pronghorns easily can outrun cheetahs.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Elana Erasmus/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Why are pronghorns so fast?
One of the theories as to why pronghorns are so fast comes down to their evolution. Early pronghorns are estimated to have evolved around 3 million years ago during the Pleistocene era and roamed North America alongside false cheetahs and other large predators. False cheetahs in particular, existed from 2.6 million to 12,000 years ago and are one of the main animals which are credited with giving pronghorns their need for speed. This is because the only way that pronghorns could survive was to become fast enough to outrun their fast predators.
What are the predators of cheetahs and pronghorns?
Due to their superior speed adult cheetahs are very rarely preyed on. However, cheetah cubs are sometimes preyed on by hyenas, leopards, and lions. Although pronghorns are also difficult to catch they still have some predators. These include coyotes, wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and bobcats.
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