What is the fastest animal in the world? That depends on how you define speed. In simple kilometres per hour, classic megafauna such as cheetahs dominate the charts. But if you measure speed by the length of an animal's body moved per second, these fast cats have some competition. In this race of proportions, representatives from all kingdoms are battling it out for the gold.
A common octopus
This cephalopod shoots across the ocean like a jet with tentacles. It sucks water into a chamber in its 20-centimetre-long, cone-shaped body, then contracts its muscles to force the liquid out through a narrow, funnel-shaped organ near its head. The jet erupts in one direction, launching the gelatinous adult squid in the opposite direction at a rate of 10 bodies per second.
Known for their apparent ease of movement, the flexible spines of these spotted cats give their limbs a wide range of motion. Stretching maximises stride and allows acceleration from zero to 60 mph in just three seconds. The hind legs, dense with fast-contracting fibres - a powerful muscle type - allow acceleration to 112.6 kilometres per hour. But given the size of the body, they also lag behind: 23 lengths per second.
Diving for love
Hummingbirds flap their wings in a figure-eight pattern so fast that humans can only see a speck. To impress the ladies, male hummingbirds, which are about 10 centimetres long, accelerate faster than any other vertebrate for their size, including fighter pilots. During a typical courtship dive, these pilots reach an astonishing speed of 385 bodies per second.
Where there is water, copepods swim happily. In times of crisis, the torpedo-shaped, 1 millimetre long crustaceans can accelerate up to 500 body lengths per second. Two types of limbs - some vibrating paddles for swimming and some stronger legs for jumping - allow the creature to leap more than 50 centimetres, ideal for escaping the gaping jaws of fish.
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