You might know that cheetahs are the fastest animals on land. But that speed isn't the only reason they're great hunters. A study shows that a cheetah’s biggest weapon is actually the way in which it starts, stops, and makes sharp turns.

“We always thought of cheetahs as sprinters,” says Alan Wilson, leader of the team from the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College that completed the study. “But now it looks as though sprinting is only part of the story.”

Fast and Furious

Scientists have long known that cheetahs are able to reach top speeds of 62 miles per hour (mph) — more than twice as fast as Olympic gold-medal sprinter Usain Bolt. But when researchers placed special collars on five cheetahs in Botswana, a country in southern Africa, they found out something even more amazing about how cheetahs hunt!

For 17 months, the collars tracked the speed and movements of the cheetahs while they chased down their prey (animals hunted by other animals as food). From the 367 chases that were recorded, scientists learned that the big cats accelerate faster than any other land animal.

Acceleration is how much an object increases speed over time. It describes how quickly an object can move from zero miles per hour to its top speed. The cheetahs were able to accelerate with four times the power of a human sprinter. They would leave even many cars in the dust!

Turning on a Dime

The scientists also found that cheetahs have an incredible ability to slam on the brakes and make sharp turns. This comes in handy when chasing down animals that are able to run for much longer periods of time, like antelope. A cheetah hunt usually lasts no longer than one minute.

“Capturing prey seems to come down to maneuvering,” Wilson told the Associated Press. “It’s all the zigzagging, ducking, and diving.”

Scientists want to use the same types of collars to study other animals. They hope to discover more secrets behind the best hunters in the animal kingdom.


This article was originally published July 26, 2013, for Scholastic News Online.