The 15 Fastest Animals in the World

Cheetah running through grass

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When it comes to agility, speed, and gracefulness, the creatures on this list of the fastest animals in the world are the best of the best — on land, in the air, and in the water. Their bodies, wings, fins, and legs have been designed by evolution to excel in their environments and give them the advantage they need to survive, hunt prey, and move with ease and skill.

Fastest Human Runner in the World

Usain Bolt became the fastest human in the world in 2009, when he sprinted 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, at a maximum speed of 27.78 mph, yet he is no match for some of the animals on this list.

1
of 15

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon in flight

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Not only is this magnificent bird of prey the fastest in the sky, but it's the fastest of the entire animal 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 in nearly every continent and lives primarily near coastal areas. The wingspan of a fully grown adult can reach up to 4 feet. They stalk ducks and other types of birds and can travel thousands of miles in a single day using wind currents to their advantage.

2
of 15

Golden Eagle

Golden eagle landing

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The golden eagle belongs to the Accipitridae family and is named for the light-colored markings on its head and back. They 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.

3
of 15

Mexican Free-Tailed Bat

Swarm of Mexican-free tailed bats flying

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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.

4
of 15

Rock Dove

Rock dove perched

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The rock dove, or common pigeon, as it's better known, is an ubiquitous bird found in parks and urban areas all over the world. The greenish-purple markings on their necks as well as their gray feathers make them easily recognizable.

They 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 also well-equipped for long distances, and their top speed has been clocked at 97 mph.

5
of 15

Black Marlin

Black marlin jumping out of water

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This large, magnificent fish is native to the Indian and Pacific oceans. While on the hunt, or if escaping from danger, they can swim at speeds of up to 82 mph. Primarily solitary creatures, they subsist on smaller fish, squid and even octopus, and use their distinct sword-like bill to incapacitate their prey. Though the black marlin is the fastest sea animal, its popularity in deep-sea sport fishing leaves it vulnerable to its greatest predator and biggest threat: humans.

6
of 15

Albatross

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 do they have the longest wingspan of any bird, but they can live for many decades and travel for years over the ocean without ever stopping on land. They can even sleep while flying. Their top speeds reach up to 79 mph. These birds are carnivores and use their excellent sense of smell to hunt for krill and squid.

7
of 15

Cheetah

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.

8
of 15

Sailfish

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 at 68 mph. Along with sharks and whales, they 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.

9
of 15

American Quarter Horse

Quarter horse running on a track

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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.

10
of 15

Lion

Lion in tall grass

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The African lion is another 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 after their prey in short sprints at 60 mph. Female lions, which are the hunters in 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, lions live together in large groups, or prides.

11
of 15

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," tuna populations have been drastically overfished to keep up with the demands of the restaurant industry. Because of this, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has marked their populations as declining and classified the tuna with a "Near Threatened" status. These fish make very long migrations throughout the year in search of food and breeding areas.

12
of 15

Mako Shark

Close up of mako shark underwater

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The mako shark is yet another animal on the IUCN's Red List of endangered species. 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. They are adept at swimming at great depths, but prefer the warmer waters of moderate climates such as the tropics.

13
of 15

Hyena

Pack of hyenas running in tall grass

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Hyenas are an odd bunch, but they mean serious business when in pursuit of their dinner. When 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.

Pack animals, hyenas travel together in groups as large as 80 members 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.

14
of 15

Wombat

Close up of wombat next to rock

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There are three species of wombat, the southern, northern, and common wombat, all of which 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.

15
of 15

Komodo Dragon

Kimodo dragon in the wild

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While many people mistakenly think of the Komodo dragon as a slow-moving, sluggish reptile, they can in fact, run quite fast. They will move up to 12 mph but are not known for covering large distances at that speed. 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.

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