Luckily, most creatures are not out to get you. But we never stop to think how shockingly fast many species are, and just how slow humans are. Today, we discover which species are the fastest on Earth, how they reach insane speeds, and why even jumping in a car, boat, or some airplanes might not be enough to outrun some of them…
10. Mexican Free-tailed Bat
So you thought the cheetah was the world’s fastest mammal? Wrong. It may hold land speed records, but the fastest mammal is actually a bat. It turns out they are not all dawdling flutterbugs. The Mexican Free-tailed Bat can get going up to 100 miles per hour as it pursues insects and avoids deadly hunters, like falcons. The Mexican Free-tailed Bat Tadarida brasiliensis is already the holder of an impressive world record: one for forming the largest concentrations of individuals among any mammal species.
Originally believed to reach about 59 miles per hour, the bat was discovered to be capable of 100 miles per hour thanks to recent research, published in 2016 through the University of Tennessee. A high aspect ratio, meaning that the wings of this bat are long yet thin, aid significantly in the bat’s flight. The speed is attained through the strength of wingbeats, not diving or wind boosts. Eating insects at higher altitudes than many bats allows the Mexican Free-tailed Bat to hunt at high speed without the risk of a collision with tall objects or the ground.
9. Black Marlin
The world’s fastest fish is the gigantic, muscular, and streamlined Black Marlin, and what a fish that is. Equipped with a sharp, bony beak, the black marlin has been recorded at 80 miles per hour. That is quite something given the resistance offered by water, yet this fish goes faster than some aircraft.
A relative of tuna and swordfish in the vast fish order perciformes, the black marlin appears like a darker, stockier, and larger swordfish. A sharp bill, similar to that of the better known swordfish, and a crest-shaped, front-extended dorsal fin lend the black marlin an iconic and unusual appearance. The size of these fish is incredible, potentially being up to 16.4 feet, while the weight can reach 1,480 pounds. Females are far larger than males in this species.
8. Peregrine Falcon
The fastest living creature, not just bird, is the peregrine falcon. This robust yet extraordinarily streamlined bird is proof that speed kills. It swoops at its prey and stuns with a controlled collision. What is scary is that it is faster than a lot of airplanes. The bird can reach 242 miles per hour (or 389 kilometers an hour). It’s sometimes terrible to be a pigeon.
Also, there are about 10,000 species of birds in the world, and this one species of bird, making up 0.001 percent of birds, has eaten close to 10 percent of them. That’s insane. Special nostril adaptations allow the bird to go fast while being able to breathe. When the peregrine makes contact with prey, the impact of the bird’s sharp and strong breastbone delivers the fatal impact.
7. Plough Snail
We have to shatter stereotypes and what better way than to name — wait for it — the world’s swiftest snail. Though renowned for their sloth, snails are actually hiding some racers in their ranks. The aquatic Plough Snail surfs like a human surfer, using its large foot to catch waves. Once it has caught up to its prey, the snail rips it apart and devours it, for this snail is a hunter, not an algae eater.
When not surfing, this speedy snail can move at 1 inch per second using its muscular foot. Native to shorelines of Southern South Africa, the Plough Snail is like a vulture of the sea, frequently arriving on the shore in large groups to plunder the remains of dead marine life, detecting the smell of the rotting flesh. Once food is detected, the snails “surf” within range of the food before tearing it apart with their ideal tool, the raspy, tissue separating radula.
6. African Wild Dog
Wolves may be feared but they are slowpokes compared to a truly quick canine. The African Wild Dog, also known as the Cape Hunting Dog, is a unique dog species native to Africa that holds the record for fastest wild member of the dog family. The pack hunter can take down prey far larger than itself, a feat accomplished not only by teamwork but the exceptional speed of the group members.
Speeds of up to 44 miles per hour have been recorded by researchers. Boldly patterned with bat-like ears, the dogs, somewhat German Shepherd-like in appearance, are fast and determined enough to ensure most prey has a limited chance of running away. The dogs focus their hunting largely on antelope, which they have evolved to hunt as specialist predators. African Wild Dogs are also known as “Painted Wolves” and are an endangered, declining species that have become a target of conservation efforts.
5. Fin Whale
The world’s fastest whale is also the second largest whale, and the second largest animal species, on Earth. While it might not be expected for size and speed to go hand in hand, this potentially 74-ton giant is a true speedster among whales, given its ability to exceed 25 miles per hour. This species is one that the author has had the experience of encountering in the wild of Canada’s west coast, offering an impression of unimaginable size coupled with the streamlining required to go fast when viewed briefly from a boat.
The Fin Whale feeds on small organisms including crustaceans and small fish, an ironic trend where the largest whales eat impossibly small prey through baleen filtering. With approximately just 100,000 in the world’s oceans, Fin Whales are an endangered species thanks to whaling occurrences. The video above of a Fin Whale leaping into the air in the Straits of Gibralter offers a rare above water glimpse of the entire animal, which is remarkably streamlined, hinting at its capacity for great whale speed.
The famous cheetah, sometimes touted as the quickest mammal of all, is actually just the fastest land mammal. But the abilities of this cat are remarkable. A native of Africa and Asia, the cheetah has mastered an incredible act of balance, holding apparently competing superpowers that at first would seem almost incompatible. These would be speed and brute strength, given its ability to bite down with force and suffocate victims (ranging from wild sheep and goats to antelopes, depending on the subspecies in question) and truly remarkable agility.
Able to get going up to 70 miles per hour in pursuit of its prey, the cheetah has impressive balance and coordination in addition to its speed, even using its tail to turn while airborne in a leap. While the cheetah is known from Africa most famously, its name actually originates from an Indian language, Sanskrit. The word “Chitraka” translates to “spotted one.” Measuring 30 inches at shoulder height, the cheetah weighs in at between 75 and 140 pounds. The animal’s physical abilities are somewhat doglike, right down to the semi-retractable claws that are blunt — very unusual for a cat. Cheetahs are widely distributed on the African continent, but are exceptionally rare now in Asia, being limited to Iran, where conservation efforts have been established to protect their dwindling numbers.
3. Shortfin Mako Shark
The question many armchair scientists may hold is, which is the world’s fastest shark? We fear sharks, and though most could easily outswim us, which one is the fastest adds some extra splash to our apprehension. The Shortfin Mako Shark is the record holder among shark species with a streamlined yet extremely muscular body. The 46 mile per hour maximum speed of this shark, which occurs in a wide distribution in the world’s oceans including both temperate and tropical waters, is aided by some unique adaptations.
The shark can reach a length of 14.6 feet and weigh more than 1,200 pounds, with significantly larger catches described in capture records. Leaps of up to 30 feet into the air can be performed by this eater of fish, seabirds, squid, smaller marine mammals including seals and porpoises, other sharks, and sea turtles. Injurious attacks on humans and boats with a record of a fatality have occurred with this species, which is classified as a mackerel shark, making it a smaller relative of the infamous Great White Shark. Remarkably, the speed of Shortfin Mako Sharks can be attributed in part to their sharp skin of denticles, which reduce drag.
2. Patas Monkey
As fast as humans are, we are slower than the true winners in the category of swiftest primate on land, the remarkable Patas Monkey. Hailing from East and West Africa, the monkeys are large despite their extraordinary speed. Speeds of 31 miles per hour are attained trouble-free by Erythrocebus patas as they make their way across the plains in grassland and semi-desert habitats.
The monkeys are not just fast, but extremely social — albeit with exceptionally skewed gender ratios. The creatures live in groups that may consist of up to 60 females with only one male for the majority of each year. Equipped with a long tail for balance, the monkeys have a golden, grey, and white coat with some black facial hair accents that lend a subtle yet distinguished appearance. At the same time, their physique somewhat recalls that of a dog. The speed of this monkey allows flight from predators, while the diet of the monkey is distinctly stationary or slow for the most part, consisting gum, seeds, roots, and insects.
1. Giant House Spider
The fastest spider on the planet is one of the larger species but, fortunately, not one of the deadly ones as far as human interactions are concerned. The aptly named Giant House Spider travels around like an arthropod-shaped robot monster at 1.18 feet per second, thoroughly startling people who observe one in their home. The Giant House Spider is perhaps not objectively fast but for a creature of its size, that is shocking. A flash and a blur of legs is all the concerned home resident may see.
The beige and brownish creatures appear velvety and are originally native to habitats in Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa, yet the Pacific Northwest of North America is a new home for great numbers of Giant House Spiders following their accidental introduction to the region. This species was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s fastest before being replaced by the creatures known as sun spiders, but technically, sun spiders are not true spiders; thus, the Giant House Spider is legitimately the world’s fastest spider.