This Is The Fastest Animal on Earth

Meet the Ferrari of Mother Nature.

Quick! Off the top of your head, what's the fastest animal on the planet?

If you said cheetah, that's a good guess; the spotted felines can reach top speeds of 61 miles per hour when they're sprinting after (presumably terrified) prey.

But what about the sail fish? This aquatic creature has been recorded swimming at breakneck speeds of 68 miles per hour. (Take that, Michael Phelps.) Surely, that's the fastest animal out there, right?

Nope! The sail fish is indeed the fastest creature in the sea, and the cheetah blows by everything on land. But to identify the speediest animal, you have to look up to the sky.

The fastest animal in all of the animal kingdom is actually the peregrine falcon. And chances are, you've seen one before.

According to National Geographic, peregrine falcons "are among the world's most common birds of prey and live on all continents except Antarctica." As you might expect, they're partial to wide-open spaces that give them maximum advantages for spotting prey, and tend to feed on small shorebirds and ducks. For that reason, the peregrine falcon does best near coasts, but they've been found in many different habitats, from deserts to major cities. So you can keep an eye out for a peregrine falcon perching or nesting on skyscrapers, cliffs, water towers, and other tall structures.

And while the peregrine falcon may be exceptionally fast, it's not exceptionally large. This crow-sized bird, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, measures about 14 to 19 inches in length, has a wingspan of around 41 inches, and weighs anywhere from about 19 to 56 ounces.

So what makes these winged specimens so fast? The answer is simple: gravity.

According to Fast Company, when peregrine falcons hunt, they climb to insane heights and then use the force of gravity to plummet down towards their target at mind-bending speeds. How fast, you ask? Well, the peregrine falcon is capable of soaring through the sky at up to 200 miles per hour during a dive. (For context, Ferrari's fastest-ever consumer vehicle, the aptly named 812 Superfast, has a top recorded speed of 211 miles per hour. And that's a literal machine.)

Peregrine falcons get pretty amazing mileage, too, as you might've guessed. The birds that spend warmer months in the Arctic tundra and migrate to South America for the winter are estimated to cover as many as 15,500 miles in a year.

A few decades ago, peregrine falcons were disappearing. But thanks to captive breeding programs and curtailing of pesticide use (including the harmful insecticide, DDT), peregrine falcon populations have quickly started to soar. And for more of Mother Nature's astonishing creatures, meet these 23 Cute Animals That Are Way More Dangerous Than You Thought.

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Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
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