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What are the Fastest Animals in the World?

Mary Elizabeth
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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When speaking of the fastest animals in the world, it makes sense to talk about three separate groups: the fastest on land, in water, and in the air. Each environment has its own challenges, and animals that move fast in one often are much slower in another. Peregrine falcons are often considered the fastest, however, reaching tremendous speeds when diving through the air.

Mammals are the fastest animals on land, with the cheetah, which can run 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour), taking the lead. Compare this with the fastest insect, the hawk moth, which reaches 33 miles per hour (53 km per hour), and the fastest reptile, the spiny-tailed iguana, which can reach 21 miles per hour (34 km per hour). The fastest bird on land is the ostrich, which runs at 43 miles per hour (69 km per hour), while the wild turkey can attain 15 miles an hour (24 km per hour), with the chicken following at 9 miles per hour (14 km per hour).

Following the cheetah, there are a number of other mammals, including the wildebeest, lion, and Thomson’s gazelle, all of which can obtain 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour), and the hyena, zebra, and Mongolian wild ass, all of which can reach 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour). The white-tailed deer, wart hog, and grizzly bear all check in at 30 miles per hour (48 km per hour). The fastest dog is the greyhound, which can run 43 miles per hour (69 km per hour), while cats can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour (48 km per hour).

In the water, fish take the lead. Sailfish are the fastest in the water, at 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour) — the same speed in the water as cheetahs attain on land. Mako sharks can reach 60 miles per hour (97 km per hour), and marlins, 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour). The fastest mammal in the water is the killer whale, which can swim at up to 48 miles per hour (77 km per hour).

Neither insects, reptiles, mammals, or terrestrial bird speeds come anywhere close to birds in flight. Birds are not only the fastest animals in the air: they are the fastest on Earth. Swifts can fly at 106 miles per hour (171 km per hour). Peregrine falcons fly at 90 miles per hour (171 km per hour) and dive at 200 miles per hour (322 km per hour).

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for All Things Nature, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By fargocowgirl — On Aug 21, 2013

What non-marine animal can swim 50 mph underwater?

By anon328802 — On Apr 05, 2013

Actually, because of aerodynamics, build,and feather type, the peregrine is the fastest. It has been clocked at over 250mph; look it up! Ignorance is bliss, so let me correct this. They can adjust angles, direction, breathe, control movements, attack, maintain, and manage a speed beyond terminal velocity due to the evolution of their biological make up. What makes me such an authority on this? I train, maintain and study them.

By anon327884 — On Mar 31, 2013

While cheetahs are clearly the fastest land animals, I believe the peregrine falcons are the fastest animals because they can move over 20 mph (322 km/h) without their lungs being crushed or their eyes being coated with debris. According to National Geographic, the fastest recorded speed of a peregrine falcon's dive is 242 mph (389 km/h). The record was set by a peregrine named Frightful. She was released from a helicopter at 15,000 ft (4,572 m) which is a height that she could achieve naturally.

If a cheetah was thrown off the Empire State Building they would die without even reaching 200 mph (322 km/h). They aren't aerodynamic like the peregrine, so they would be slowed down way more by air. Also the Empire State Building is only 1,454 ft (433 m) high, and Frightful was diving for several thousand feet before she got up to 242 mph (389 km/h). Plus, the cheetah wouldn't be reaching 200 mph (32 km/h) of its own power, so it shouldn't count. I mean, Felix Baumgartner skydived from 24 miles (39 km) above New Mexico. He broke the sound barrier by falling at a top speed of 833.9 mph (1,342 km/h), but humans clearly aren't the fastest animals.

P.S. Peacock mantis shrimp only strike at about 50 mph (80 km/h), and golden eagles only dive at about 150 mph (241 km/h).

Also, the pronghorn is sometimes referred to as the pronghorn antelope and the prong buck, even though it isn't an antelope. Its top speed is estimated to be 55 mph (88.5 km/h), but it can sustain that speed for .5 mi (.8 km) which is much further than the cheetah can run at its top speed.

By anon322406 — On Feb 27, 2013

I also agree with the cheetah being the fastest animal on land.

By anon276269 — On Jun 22, 2012

Have heard that some spiders are the fastest creatures in the world. Normally they just creep along, but in panic mode is a different story.

By anon183834 — On Jun 06, 2011

Sorry, but you are very, very wrong. You will never reach 200 miles/hour in a dive. Terminal velocity, mate.

By anon156193 — On Feb 26, 2011

i think the cheetah is the fastest animal because technically, the peregrine falcon flies, not runs, which gives him a boost, but if you put him on land the cheetah would win the race any day. Plus, as some of you are saying, it dives off cliffs and that's what makes it fast. Anything could reach the same speed falling or diving off a cliff (even me), but the peregrine falcon just has to fly at the end of the cliff to stop dying so it's not the cheetah cheating.

p.s. some of you say the cheetah can reach up to 70 mph. yeah he can in three seconds, but its top speeds are 100-122 mph and if I'm wrong, then go to the library because i have three books saying it's the fastest animal and it can reach speeds from 100-122 mph.

By anon139201 — On Jan 04, 2011

Slight problem with the whole peregrine falcon argument. I'm not saying any of you're wrong, but it's called the fastest animal in the world because it is accepted by most people around the globe and it's also able to survive it and not just die after reaching the speed.

By anon134790 — On Dec 16, 2010

I think why they say Peregrine falcons are the fastest is because it can reach up to very high speeds. Of course Peregrine falcons make use of the gravity to attain such high speeds, but STILL they can travel that fast.

Diving is a part of the peregrine falcon's lifestyle (they catch prey by diving down very fast, reaching 200mph). I think it is the fact that they are able to have control even at these speeds make it the fastest animal in the world.

By anon130314 — On Nov 28, 2010

Peregrine falcons dive, not jump off from the Empire State Building or a cliff.

By Elijah Urdaneta — On Oct 01, 2010

The Peregrine Falcon can manage to obtain that speed that speed on a dive but still unhurt. It can even fly upwards right after a dive. They just simply open their wings to catch the drag all they need to stop.

By anon113738 — On Sep 25, 2010

Something that some people forget is the fact that the peregrine falcon can survive these speeds, without its lungs being crushed or being unable to breathe.

If you dropped a cheetah from those heights, even if it magically didn't die from impact, the falling itself would kill it.

By anon109728 — On Sep 08, 2010

a cow can reach a speed of 120 ft/s when dropped out of a helicopter. that's about 82 mph or 132kph for the metric users out there.

By anon103481 — On Aug 12, 2010

Just to let you all know, you are all wrong. The spine tailed swift, also known has the white-throated needle-tail has reached recorded speeds of 106 mph, which is why they call it a swift. Now we are talking about level motion not gravity assisted plunge diving, so the peregrine falcon is not the world's fastest animal.

How I look at it is, I could push anyone off of the Empire State Building and crown them the world's fastest beast, huh?

By anon103480 — On Aug 12, 2010

it's the peregrine falcon -- over 200mph!

By anon91321 — On Jun 21, 2010

What most of people here ignore is that no skydiver can actually stay alive after falling from such heights unless he has a parachute or smith, and that is technology, not something that a human can do by himself.

And if a cheetah is dropped from the cliff, it will die too. I'm no scientist but as far as I understand, we are talking about animals who run/fly/swim like that every day without any help from technologies and they live after reaching such speeds. Just my opinion.

By anon90563 — On Jun 16, 2010

the african cheetah is the fastest animal in the world.

By anon82704 — On May 07, 2010

You're all wrong. Peacock mantis shrimp. It strikes the shells of crustaceans fast enough to create light and heat not unlike the sun. And that's underwater. 800 times as dense as air.

By anon80813 — On Apr 28, 2010

I hate how when you see an article like this there are always complaints saying eagles, cheetahs, hawks, (skydivers) are fastest.

By anon75766 — On Apr 07, 2010

I know for a fact that the Cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world.

By anon68101 — On Mar 01, 2010

Anything "falling" is going to reach terminal velocity, assuming it falls far enough, from a peregrine falcon diving to a cheetah dumped off a cliff.

Based on wind resistance, for example, the terminal velocity of a skydiver in a free-fall position with a semi-closed parachute is about 120 mph. Terminal velocity is the balance point the falling body strikes between acceleration due to gravity and air resistance/drag. In the parachuter example, a speed of 50 percent of terminal velocity is reached after only about 3 seconds, while it takes 8 seconds to reach 90 percent, 15 seconds to reach 99 percent and so on. Higher speeds can be attained if the skydiver pulls in his or her limbs. In this case, the terminal velocity increases to about 200 mph, which is also the terminal velocity of the peregrine falcon diving down on its prey or the cheetah tossed off the cliff. Or for a bullet fired up in the air, and falling back to earth.

Competition speed skydivers fly in the head down position reaching even higher speeds. The current world record is 614 mph by Joseph Kittinger, set at high altitude where the lesser density of the atmosphere decreased drag.

By anon66904 — On Feb 22, 2010

The American Quarter Horse is the fastest race horse for sprinting short distances. It can top about 55 miles per hour. It is the most popular horse breed in the United States.

By anon62716 — On Jan 28, 2010

it is a peregrine falcon. it can top 200 miles an hour.

By anon54754 — On Dec 02, 2009

A golden eagle can reach 200 miles per hour in a dive.

By anon46716 — On Sep 28, 2009

Flying Mazie, my greyhound, clocked 46 miles per hour in a race at the track. Still, not a great racer, but a much better dog. Any Cowboy fans? If you remember Alexander Wright then that is Mazie, a ton of talent but couldn't play ball!

By anon45074 — On Sep 13, 2009

Ohio cheetah is fastest land mammal, at 36 mph.

By anon45069 — On Sep 13, 2009

Just for a smile you need to remember "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"

By anon45059 — On Sep 13, 2009

Which race horses are the fastest? You can bet that they can run very fast.

By anon45049 — On Sep 13, 2009

What if you took a cheetah, and dropped him off a cliff? I bet he'd make 200 miles per hour in a dive. Right?

By anon27612 — On Mar 03, 2009

which is the fastest animals?

By anon24838 — On Jan 19, 2009

The ass is a more subtle creature rather than a fast runner they were bred into what we call

today a Donkey.

By pixiedust — On Jun 05, 2008

I've heard there's a fast antelope, the pronghorn antelope, I think, that's pretty fast...something like 60 mph.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
Learn more
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