The 15 Fastest Animals in the World

Cheetah running through grass

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When it comes to agility, speed, and gracefulness, these creatures are the cream of the crop—on land, in the air, and in the water. Their bodies, wings, fins, and legs are designed by evolution to excel, giving them the advantage they need to survive.

While a wombat's fleeing speed of 25 mph, the speed at which you crawl through a school zone, doesn't sound like much, remember this: The average human can run only about 10 mph. The fastest known person in the world, Usain Bold, can run just slightly faster than a wombat, his record speed 27.78 mph.

From an especially speedy species of bat to the famously fast cheetah (not actually the fastest animal on the planet, contrary to popular belief), these 15 animals travel at breakneck speeds.

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Peregrine Falcon

Head-on view of peregrine falcon in flight

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Not only is this magnificent raptor the fastest bird in the sky; it's also the fastest animal in the entire kingdom. On average, a peregrine falcon flies at a speed between 40 mph and 60 mph, but it can reach its maximum speed of 240 mph when in a straight dive going after prey.

The peregrine falcon is found on nearly every continent and lives primarily near coastal areas. The wingspan of a fully grown adult can reach up to four feet. These falcons stalk ducks and other types of birds and can travel thousands of miles in a single day using wind currents to their advantage.

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Golden Eagle

Golden eagle flying close to ground in golden light

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The golden eagle is named for the light-colored markings on its head and back. It can reach speeds of up to 200 mph when in pursuit of food. This type of eagle is the preferred bird for falconry, a sport that has been around since the Middle Ages.

Golden eagles have excellent vision. While the best human vision is 20/20, eagles have 20/4 vision, meaning they can see even farther away by several feet.

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Mexican Free-Tailed Bat

Mexican free-tailed bats flying against blue sky shot from below

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Also known as guano bats, these mysterious cave dwellers are capable of flying fast over long distances. Their top speed has been clocked at 100 mph. Native to North and South America, these bats live together in prolific numbers (up to hundreds of thousands in one colony) and eat millions of pounds of insects a year. One of the biggest colonies can be found in Texas, outside of San Antonio.

Baby bats, or pups, feed on their mother's milk when they're born and grow quickly. In just a matter of weeks, pups are ready to fly on their own and participate in long migratory events with the adults.

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Rock Dove

Profile of a rock dove perched on ledge

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The rock dove—or common pigeon, as it's better known—is well-equipped for long distances, reaching top speeds of 97 mph. Besides being fast, these birds have an uncanny ability to find their way home from any location, which is why they have been popular as domesticated pets and as carrier pigeons used to transmit communications.

Rock doves are ubiquitous birds found in parks and urban areas all over the world. Their gray feathers and greenish-purple markings make them easily recognizable.

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Black Marlin

Black marlin jumping out of water

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The fastest fish in the ocean, the black marlin, is native to the Indian and Pacific oceans. While on the hunt, or if escaping from danger, it can swim at speeds of up to 82 mph. Primarily solitary creatures, black marlins subsist on smaller fish, squid, and even octopus. They use their distinct swordlike bills to incapacitate their prey.

The black marlin's popularity in deep-sea sport fishing leaves it vulnerable to its greatest predator and biggest threat: humans.

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Albatross flying over the ocean

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The albatross is a fascinating bird, and it has long been considered a sign of good luck for sailors. Not only does it have the longest wingspan of any bird, but it can also live for many decades and travel for years over the ocean without ever stopping on land. These birds can even sleep while flying. Their top speeds reach up to 79 mph. They are carnivores and use their excellent sense of smell to hunt for krill and squid.

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Cheetah running in the grass

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This large, graceful cat bears the title of the fastest land animal. Out in the wide-open spaces of African savannas and grasslands, cheetahs can reach speeds of 61 mph. Cheetahs are typically short-burst runners that will spring into action when tracking down a potential prey. Most big cats do the majority of their hunting and stalking in the cover of darkness, but cheetahs are diurnal. They will often seek higher ground to scan for possible food sources and use highly developed tracking skills to follow scent trails.

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Pair of sailfish underwater

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The sailfish, with its unmistakable needle-sharp bill and sail, is one of the fastest creatures in the water, able to swim 68 mph. Along with sharks and whales, these are among the biggest apex predators of the ocean. Like the black marlin, they are highly sought after in sport and trophy fishing competitions. They prefer to hunt and travel in groups and are mostly found in the Atlantic Ocean. It's possible for a sailfish to live up to 15 years in the wild.

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American Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse run free in meadow frontal view

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A descendant of Spanish horses, this particular breed has adapted to running in fast sprints around tracks for sport. In fact, the quarter horse's name comes from its optimal racing distance, which is measured at a quarter of a mile or less. They differ from other thoroughbreds because of this specialization for shorter distances. The fastest horse on record reached 55 mph.

Quarter horses can live up to 35 years, but their racing careers are short-lived and generally don't last more than five years. Aside from racing, they work well as ranch horses and are usually the most common breed of horse found in competitive rodeo circuits.

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Lion running in dusty landscape

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African lions are another type of wild cat that can reach incredible speeds. Though they don't have much stamina to maintain the speed for extended periods of time, they can burst into short sprints of 60 mph when pursuing prey.

Female lions, the hunters of the group, mostly hunt at dawn and dusk hours. Lions tend to eat every four or five days and can consume up to 20 pounds of meat in one sitting. Unlike other large cats, they live together in large groups called prides.

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Yellowfin Tuna

Underwater shot of yellowfin tuna

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The yellowfin tuna, with top speeds of 47 mph, is found in most of the world's major oceans. Known more commonly as "ahi," this tuna has been drastically overfished to keep up with the demands of the restaurant industry. Although the IUCN once classified it as a near-threatened species, it is now of least concern. Still, populations are declining because of overfishing.

Yellowfin tuna make very long migrations throughout the year in search of food and breeding areas.

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Mako Shark

Close-up of mako shark swimming in dark water

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The endangered mako shark is yet another animal on the IUCN's Red List. This type of shark can reach body lengths of 13 feet and swim as fast as 45 mph. The largest mako ever caught weighed over 1,000 pounds. These sharks are adept at swimming at great depths, but prefer the warmer waters of moderate climates such as the tropics.

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Pack of hyenas running in tall grass

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Hyenas mean serious business when in pursuit of their dinner. In a full sprint, they have been known to run as fast as 40 mph. This speed also comes in handy when they need to run away from their main predators: lions and humans.

As pack animals, hyenas travel together in groups of up to 80 and are usually led by the females. They consume vast quantities of meat and will often seek out everything from birds to wildebeests for food. In addition to their famous "laugh," they are well-known for their scavenging abilities and preference for dining on carrion and dead carcasses that have already been scoured over by other animals.

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Close-up of wombat walking across a field

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There are three species of wombat—the southern, northern, and common wombat—all of which are native to Australia. Though they spend most of their time grazing on grass and shrubs, if threatened, they will run away rather than fight. They can move up to 25 mph when fleeing danger.

A group of wombats is called a wisdom, and they typically live in small underground burrows.

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Komodo Dragon

Front view of komodo dragon running

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While many people mistakenly think of the Komodo dragon as a slow-moving, sluggish reptile, they can actually move up to 12 mph. They aren't known for covering large distances at that speed, however. They are found only on a handful of islands in Indonesia and are considered the largest lizard on the planet. They thrive on a diet of meat from birds, snakes, and rodents but will also eat decaying flesh on carrion.

Which Features Make Animals Fast?

If long limbs were the sole secret to being fast as an animal, then giraffes would certainly be the fastest. (Spoiler: A giraffe's top speed is only 38 mph.) In fact, being fast requires a combination of three important things. No matter how big or small an animal is, having this trifecta of athletic qualities is the key to achieving high speed.

  • Long limbs: Especially large or long legs, wings, and even fins can increase an animal's speed. One example of this is the sailfish, whose iconic dorsal fin runs the length of its body, about 10 inches.
  • Muscle: Because muscle can weigh an animal down, not all muscular animals are fast—take an elephant, for example. However, if you combine muscle with long limbs and energy, you get optimal mobility.
  • Energy: Cheetahs burn an incredible amount of energy when chasing prey, and studies show they rest up for these big bursts of activity, exerting as little energy as possible between chases.
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