Usain Bolt did it again at the Rio Olympics, winning an unprecedented third-straight gold medal in the 100 meters. Bolt has been clocked at a top speed of 27.8 mph, which is incredibly fast, but the world’s fastest human is a virtual turtle compared to many members of the animal kingdom. Here’s a look at 10 of the world’s fastest animals, with a unique twist. A true top-10 speed list would mostly feature only predatory birds, with the revered cheetah possibly not even making the list. So we considered not just sheer speed in miles per hour, but also considered speed relative to body size.
10. Pronghorn Antelope
This majestic creature is the fastest land animal in North America, reaching speeds of more than 55 mph. While it could not outrun a cheetah over a short distance, the pronghorn can maintain high speeds over a long distance. That endurance may help explain how the pronghorn migrates several hundred miles each year, one of the longest migrations of any land animal in the U.S.
9. Mexican Free-Tailed Bat
Several different sources claim the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is the fastest bat in the world, reaching speeds of more than 60 mph in dives. These bats live in large colonies in caves, under bridges and in old buildings, creating incredible spectacles as they emerge each night to hunt for food.
8. Sailfish and Swordfish
Here’s where lists of this nature get extremely arbitrary. Various sources describe both the sailfish and swordfish as having top speeds of anywhere from 60 to 80 mph. Both are variously cited as the fastest fish in the world. Interesting note: One study citing the swordfish as the fastest fish used MRIs to determine the fish has a huge oil-producing gland in its upper jaw. The gland secretes oil onto the swordfish’s head, thus reducing drag and improving speed.
7. Anna’s Hummingbird
This bird reaches speeds of about 50 mph, which doesn’t sound that remarkable, until you consider its tiny size. UC Berkeley researcher Christopher Clark performed a study that determined that at that speed, this hummingbird covers 385 body lengths per second. And the bird experiences almost 10Gs pulling out of dives — more than fighter pilots endure. It lives in the western part of North America.
The cheetah is often erroneously referred to as the fastest animal on Earth, despite the fact there are faster fish, birds and insects, which are all part of the animal kingdom. But the cheetah is the fastest land animal, and fastest mammal. While researchers in the wild have clocked cheetahs running at almost 65 mph, the fastest documented speed by a cheetah is 61 mph, in a test at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2012. And the cheetah has breathtaking acceleration, going from 0-60 mph in three seconds.
5. Black Marlin
According to the BBC, researchers have recorded the black marlin at 80 mph, based on how fast it strips the fishing line off a reel. That sounds like a questionable way to measure speed (Was the boat moving? Was the fish swimming in a straight line?) With that kind of speed, no wonder the black marlin is such a popular sport fish.
Anyone who has ever been relentlessly chased by one of these creatures looking to inflict their painful bite knows they’re fast. Jerry Butler, a University of Florida entomologist, reportedly measured a male horsefly (Hybomitra) at more than 90 mph. But tracking the true top speed of insects is obviously difficult, given their size and other factors. The pursuit is so rife with wild estimates that one scientist once touted the top speed of a deer botfly at 800 mph … and the scientific community accepted it as fact for several years.
3. White-Throated Needletail
Also known as the spine-tailed swift, this bird reputedly can reach 105 mph, making it the fastest bird in level flight. It is native to Asia and Australia, although it occasionally strays into Europe.
Surprised? This little creature (Paratarsotomus macropalpis) is an incredible speedster given its small size, about that of a sesame seed. Researchers in California claimed in 2014 that after studying the mite’s speed in terms of body lengths per second, the lowly mite is the world’s fastest land animal. It can cover more than 320 body lengths per second, which would be the equivalent of a human being running 1,300 mph. When stories on that study reported the mite as the fastest land animal, many people vocally disagreed, saying true speed (distance covered), not relative speed (body lengths per second), is the only measure that should count. It’s an interesting debate.
1. Peregrine Falcon
This predator dives toward its prey faster than a Formula One car. The fastest recorded speed of a peregrine in a dive is 242 mph, an event detailed on an episode of National Geographic Explorer. As mentioned earlier, a true top-10 list of the world’s fastest animals would be comprised almost entirely of birds. The golden eagle, gyrfalcon, frigatebird, rock pigeon and Eurasian hobby can all top 90 mph.