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Speedy & Swift: The Fastest Animals in the World

A cheetah running.
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Fastest land animal (sprinter)

Fastest land animal (sprinter): Cheetah - 64.8 mph (29 m/s)

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In the animal Olympics, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) would dominate the sprinter categories. This big cat is the fastest land animal over short distances, capable of running at up to 64.8 mph (29 meters per second). One cheetah from the Cincinnati Zoo named Sarah has been recorded running the 100-meter dash in 5.95 seconds. The fastest human, runner Usain Bolt, can cover the same distance in 9.58 seconds.  

Fastest land animal (marathoner)

Fastest land animal (marathoner): Pronghorn antelope - Sustained speeds of 30 mph (13.4 m/s), top speeds of 55 mph (24.5 m/s).

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Over long distances, the cheetah burns out. But pronghorn antelopes (Antilocapra Americana) keep on trucking. These small ungulates can hit top speeds of 55 mph (89 km/h) but can sustain a pace of 30 mph (48 km/h) for miles. This marathoner ability comes in handy for the animals' long migrations, which span 300 miles (483 km) between the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, according to the National Wildlife Federation. 

Fastest bird (sprinter)

Fastest bird (sprinter): Peregrine falcon - Up to 220 mph (98.3 m/s) when diving.

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The Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) is freaky-fast. This aerial hunter can reach speeds of up to 220 mph (354 km/h) when diving. Its regular cruising speeds range between a swift 40 mph and 60 mph (64 to 97 km/h). According to a Boston University biolocomotion blog, the falcons are adapted for speed with pointed, streamlined wings, a large breastbone for powerful muscle attachments and stiff feathers that reduce drag. 

Fastest bird (marathoner)

Fastest bird (marathoner): Great snipe - 60 mph (26.8 m/s) on nonstop 4,200 mile (6760 km) migrations.

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A far more unassuming bird takes the top record for long-distance speed. The Great Snipe (Gallinago media) migrates huge distances from northeastern Europe to central Africa each year — up to 4,200 miles (6,760 km), according to EarthSky. For a study published in 2011 in the journal Biology Letters, researchers outfitted some of these tiny migrators with tracking devices and found that they could make these incredible journeys in a mere 48 to 96 hours. To pull it off, the birds flew at up to 60 mph (97 km/h), without the help of tailwinds, the researchers found. 

Fastest fish

Fastest Fish: Sailfish - 68 mph (30.4 m/s).

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Moving through water is harder than moving through air, thanks to the extra viscosity. That's no problem for the sailfish (Istiophorus), which can swim at speeds over 68 mph (110 km/h), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This giant fish's title could be in danger, though, as the Large Pelagics Research Center in Coucester, Massachusetts, has recorded a bluefin tuna doing a cool 144 mph (232 km/h), though it's hard to say for how long or how far — the fish's acceleration sheered its tracking tag in half

Fastest marine mammal

Fastest Marine mammal: Common Dolphin.

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They call him Flipper! Flipper! Faster than lightning… the old TV theme song is only sort of true. Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) are indeed speedy, but they would lose in a race to their relative, the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis and Delphinus capensis). Common dolphins live across the ocean in temperate and tropical waters, and they can reach speeds of up to 40 mph (64 km/h)

Fastest reptile

Fastest Reptile: The Spiny-Tailed Iguana.

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Spiny-tailed iguanas (genus Ctenosaura) are the fastest lizards on the books. These small Central American natives are known for their spiky backs and placid expressions. In 1984, a researcher clocked one running on a treadmill at a top speed of 21.5 mph (35 km/h). 

Fastest mollusk

Fastest Mollusk: Squid

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The phylum Mollusca includes such slow-and-steady creatures as snails and slugs as well as virtually sedentary animals like clams and oysters. But mollusks are diverse, and some have evolved to move. Squid are the speediest of the mollusks, with both Jumbo and Humboldt squids capable of swimming up to 15 mph (24 km/h).

Fastest insect

Fastest Insect: Australian Tiger Beetle, Cicindela hudsoni - 5.6 mph (2.5 m/s).

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Vrooom! The Australian tiger beetle (Cicindela hudsoni) does not mess around. This small jewel-toned beetle can't fly, but it can run at up to 5.6 mph (9 km/h), covering 8 feet (2.5 m) in one second, according to BBC Earth. Its close relative, another Australian tiger beetle (Cincindela eburneola) was slightly slower at 4.2 mph (6.8 km/h) but was faster in terms of body length — it could travel 171 body lengths per second, researchers found in a 1999 study, compared to 120 body lengths per second for the slightly larger C. hudsoni. For comparison, cheetahs cover 16 body lengths per second.