Big Cat 411: All About The Cheetah

Out of all the beautiful big cats of the world, the cheetah stands out. Not only is this African native built for speed, but cheetahs are born with several characteristics that make them ideal predators. They're smaller than lions and tigers, but cheetahs should not be underestimated. You'll have to travel to the open grasslands of Africa or the Middle east to see a truly wild cheetah in person, but that shouldn't stop you from learning all there is to know about these spotted speedsters. Keep reading to learn interesting cheetah facts worth sharing with friends and family.

1. They're the fastest land animal.

Most people don't need to be told that cheetahs are fast. But just how fast are they? As the fastest land animal in the entire world, the average cheetah can run up to 70 miles per hour. Even more impressive, they can reach that speed in only three seconds. cheetah facts Their incredible speed is thanks to their long legs, enlarged heart that pumps oxygen and blood throughout the body, and their large lungs. The cheetah's spine is also unusually flexible and acts like a spring to help propel the legs forward and backward.

2. They have a rudder.

With their speed and steering mechanism, cheetahs are basically furry speedboats on land. Their tails are especially long, muscular, and flat. These characteristics allow cheetahs to use their tails like a rudder on a boat. While they're sprinting at top speed, they can move their tails to both keep their balance and control their steering. Thanks to their tails, cheetahs are also the only big cats that can change direction in mid-air while they're sprinting.

3. They don't roar.

While other big cats, like lions and tigers, show off with mighty roars, the cheetah sounds more like the pampered cat in your living room. Instead of roaring, cheetahs meow, chirp, and purr. This is due to the fact that cheetahs (along with domestic house cats) have an epihyal bone in their voice box that limits what sounds they can make. Lions, on the other hand, have a flexible ligament that allows them to make lower noises, including a roar. A cheetah might not sound as ferocious as a lion, but don't let their meow fool you; cheetahs are fierce and dangerous. cheetah facts

4. Cheetahs hunt during the day.

For most big cats, successful hunts happen at night. Their eyes allow them to see better at night than their prey, and they use the cover of darkness to their advantage. The cheetah, however, doesn't need to wait until the sun sets. Not only do cheetahs have sharp vision, their faces are also patterned to deflect sunlight and prevent glare. The distinctive tear-like dark marks that go from their eyes down to their mouth help avert the sun so they don't have to squint or wear sunglasses. Once a cheetah chooses its mark, it uses its speed to bring down prey in broad daylight.

5. They survive with little water.

Depending on the season, water is in short supply in the cheetah's natural habitat. They live in the dry grasslands of Africa and the Middle East and must travel long distances between watering holes. Normally, not having water would be a big problem. Cheetahs, however, have adapted to their environment. They're capable of surviving on only one drink every 3-4 days. Considering the hot temperature and the amount of energy they exert when they sprint, this is especially impressive.

6. Cheetah cubs have long hair to blend in.

cheetah facts Mama cheetahs are ferocious, but they can't be with their young 24/7. Cubs are vulnerable to predators, but they have a few tricks that help keep them safe. One of those tricks has to do with their funny haircuts. Cheetah cubs have long hair on their backs and top of their heads. It almost looks like a mullet, but it's actually called a mantle. This unusual hairstyle helps them blend in with long grass. It can also make them look like honey badgers so wary predators will leave them alone.

7. A shaved cheetah will still have spots.

If you had time to count, you'd find that an individual cheetah has between 2,000 and 3,000 black spots bespeckling their tan fur. These spots aid in camouflage and are different than the spots of other big cats, like leopards. Another interesting spotted cheetah fact is that it isn't only their fur that is spotted. If you were to shave a cheetah, you'd find that their skin has the exact same spotted pattern. The black fur spots actually grow out of the black spots on their skin.

8. Cheetahs most likely originated from the Americas.

Today, your only chance of seeing a cheetah in the western hemisphere is if you go to a zoo or animal sanctuary. Wild cheetahs are now found only in Africa and a few small pockets in the middle east. But most researchers believe that hasn't always been the case. It's believed that the cheetah originated in the Americas and migrated to Asia via the Beringian land bridge about 100,000 years ago. They then moved south into Africa where they've been ever since.

9. They have large litters.

Female cheetahs start reproducing around two years old, and after a three-month pregnancy, a new mom can welcome anywhere from 1 to 9 cubs into the world. The average is usually between 3 and 5, but larger litters are not uncommon. What is uncommon, however, is for every cub in a large litter to survive into adulthood. Growing up in the African grasslands isn't easy, and many cubs are killed by other predators. Those that survive stay with their mom until they're around 18 months old and can stay with their littermates until they're about 2 years old.

10. Cheetahs are Africa's most endangered cat.

Like many African species, the cheetah is at risk of extinction. It's estimated there are fewer than 7,500 cheetahs living in the wild. They're currently listed as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but recent population studies might soon push the species into the "Endangered" range. Out of all the big cats that call Africa home, the cheetah is by far the most at risk of extinction. How many of these cheetah facts surprised you? Cheetah cat facts Sources: WildlifeDay, National Geographic, National Zoo

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