You may have wondered from time to time just what great speed means in the animal world? Mostly, it aids the process of hunting for prey, but that does not always have to be the case. Birds, fish, reptiles, insects and mammals all feature species members who can really move, but which among them is fastest I am just about to reveal.
6. White-Throated Needletail
When it comes to the bird world, there is some debate about which is the fastest, depending upon the context of the claim. The White-throated Needletail, or Needle-tailed Swift, pictured above, spends its entire life on the wing. It can make a perfectly valid assertion that it holds the record for speed in flapping, or normal flight, where it has been recorded at speeds of 105 mph, far faster than any other bird can fly.
Image: Carl Mueller
5. Peregrine Falcon
However, another bird can also claim the title, albeit in a different way. The Peregrine Falcon, used by men for centuries in the practice of falconry, is certifiably the fastest living creature on earth at particular times. When hunting, high up in the air, it catches prey by ambushing it. This is achieved by diving down upon it from on high, reaching speeds of over 200 mph during this characteristic hunting technique.
Sailfish are magnificent fish, found exclusively in all the oceans of the world where the waters are warm. They are blue-grey in color, with a massive dorsal fin called a sail, often stretching all the way down the back of the fish. They also sport an elongated bill, similar in appearance to those of marlin and swordfish, and for which feature they are called ‘billfish’ by sport fishermen.
There are two distinct species, both of which mature rapidly, reaching 5 ft within the first year, though adults are rarely longer than 10 ft, averaging 200lb in weight. They sometimes raise the dorsal fins when hunting in packs and herding fish shoals, and are the fastest fish in the seas, having been recorded at speeds in excess of 70 mph.
3. Leatherback Turtle
As the species with the most hydrodynamic body design among sea turtles, leatherbacks have large front flippers that provide a lot of power when moving through the water. With these flattened forelimbs, they are highly adapted for strong swimming. These flippers are the largest in proportion to the body of any sea turtle, growing up to 9 ft long when looking at in larger examples of the genre.
Leatherback turtles are becoming less common in the wild, because, it is thought, they are ingesting plastic bags that the seas are full of. They mistake these for the jellyfish on which they feed, and it is thought that at least 30% of the world population of turtles have plastic bags inside their guts, which will lead to premature deaths. The largest of all living sea turtles and the fourth largest modern reptile, the leatherback is also the fastest-moving reptile. It has been measured moving at very nearly 22 mph in the water, making it the fastest reptile in the world.
Image: Hans Hillewaarte
2. Red Dragonfly
Known by some in the UK as the ‘Devil’s Darning Needle’, and thought in Swedish folklore to be the tool used by the devil to weigh human souls, the dragonfly has an evil reputation that it hardly deserves. They are even sought out as a hobby in the USA. Oding, taken from the name, ‘odonata’ is the collection, study and release of dragonflies, and is much practiced in Texas, where 225 different species can be found. It is estimated that the top speed for a dragonfly is 20 to 40 mph. Speed varies greatly between the several thousand different species, though larger dragonflies normally fly much faster. Dragonflies are the fastest flying insect on earth.
Image: Ed Fitzgerald
A stunning member of the cat family, the cheetah is well known for being the fastest mammal on earth, capable, over no more than a quarter of a mile, of reaching running speeds of 70 to 75 mph, and capable of reaching such speed within three seconds of a standing start, far quicker than any super car could manage. Unfortunately, unlike the mechanical beasts, such speed comes at great physical cost. Body temperature can rise to dangerous levels , which is why the cheetah has to rest after catching prey, sometimes for at least 30 minutes, if not longer.
Some of these fabulous creatures are endangered, mores the pity, reduced in numbers by pollution or the over-expansion of humanity into animal territories, so it is vital that we all do everything we can to help protect the natural world, if we honestly want our descendants to get the same pleasure from wildlife as we ourselves enjoy today.