Our planet is home to an estimated 1-2 million species of animals, according to scientists. These animals live all over the world in various habitats, and in some cases are quite different from one another. Whether it’s to evade predators or catch prey, some animals have adapted over the years have amazing speed. In this article we’ll have a look at the top 5 fastest animals in the world by land, in the water, and in the air.
Let’s have a look!
Fastest animals in the world
In the following list of fastest animals in the world, I’ve broken them down into the 3 main categories of land, air, and water. The top 5 fastest, ranked, for each category.
Top speed indicates the top speed on record, these animals may be slightly faster in the wild away from the eyes of humans.
5 fastest animals on land
Top speed: 61 mph
I think I’ve known that the cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet since I was a little kid. It’s just a bit of trivia I learned and never forgot. If you Google a the top speed a Cheetah can reach you’ll see reports of everything from 60 mph to 80 mph. However the top speed confirmed on record for a cheetah is actually 61 mph by a cheetah named Sarah at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio.
Cheetahs have evolved and adapted over the years to be incredibly fast predators, because their food is also very fast. Food similar to the next-fastest land animal on earth, the pronghorn antelope.
2. Pronghorn antelope
Top speed: 60 mph
The second fastest land animal on earth is the pronghorn antelope that is native to the great plains in the United States. They are found in states like Montana, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and other nearby states. Pronghorns have incredible speed that helps them evade predators like wolves and grizzly bears. These herbivores have amazing vision and it’s believed they can see 10x better than humans.
Top speed: 55 mph
Springboks are also found in Southern Africa, just like cheetahs. They are actually common prey of cheetahs, leopards, spotted hyenas, lions and wild dogs. Luckily for springboks, they are incredibly fast runners and can hit speeds of 55 mph. They aren’t as fast cheetahs, but they have more stamina. Cheetahs can only hit their peak speeds for very short sprints. So if the springbok outruns the initial attack, they’re likely in the clear.
4. Quarter horse
Top speed: 55 mph
This breed of horse is known for its speed and is the fastest type of horse there is. They are not well-suited as a working horse, such as a farm horse. They are often used in rodeos or barrel racing. These beautiful animals can cost anywhere from $2500 up to $100k for a show horse. The American quarter horse has been around since the 1860s and is a fully-domesticated animal.
Top speed: 45 mph
The ostrich is one of the most well-known flightless birds on the planet. They’re also know for their powerful legs and incredible speed. There are some mentions of ostriches reach up to 60 mph in a sprint, but nothing on record that I could find. Wikipedia has the ostrich’s top speed at 43-45 mph. Few other birds even come close to the ostriches top speed on land. If we’re including air speed for birds though, that’s another story.
5 fastest animals by air
1. Peregrine falcon
Top speed: 242 mph
The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet, hands down. In a dive for prey, the peregrine falcon can reach speeds near 250 mph. They essentially turn their body into the shape of a bullet and can slice through the air with little to no wind resistant, thus attaining these amazing speeds.
A peregrine can also take prey up to 3 times its size by diving from above at high speeds. They ball up their talons into a fist, and punch the prey in a high speed collision. This leaves the prey disoriented and possibly injured, tumbling to the ground. The peregrine then moves in for the kill and to claim its meal.
2. Golden eagle
Top speed: 200 mph
The second fastest animal on earth is the golden eagle who can reach speeds of 150-200 mph in a similar dive as the peregrine. The golden eagle is several time larger than the peregrine. In fact, these eagles can even take small deer as prey. Golden eagles are found in the western half of the United States as well as on other continents like Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Top speed: 130 mph
Gyrfalcons breed in the arctic tundra, but do venture down into Canada and far northern parts of the United States in the Winter. There are year-round populations of this raptor in Alaska. While not quite as fast as the peregrine and golden eagle, gyrfalcons can still reach speeds of 130 mph or higher in a dive. Gyrfalcons are among the largest and only white falcons in North America.
4. White-throated needletail
Top speed: 105 mph
The white-throated needletail is the fastest horizontal flying bird in the world. It belongs to the family of swifts and is not a raptor like the previous fastest air animals in this section.
This means that even though species like the peregrine have much higher top speeds, needletails can cover more ground in a day because of their super fast cruising speed. White-throated needletails feed on a variety of flying insects such as dragonflies, wasps, bees, and beetles.
5. Mexican free-tailed bat
Top speed: 101 mph
Just to mix things up I thought I’d add a mammal to the fastest air animals category, the Mexican free-tailed bat. These bats are primarily insectivores and can reach speeds of over 100 mph while out searching for food.
Like the needletail, this is also a horizontal speed, making these bats faster than most birds. As the name suggests these bats are centrally located in Mexico, but they’re also found in southern parts of the U.S. as well as down into South America.
5 fastest animals in water
1. Black marlin
Top speed: 80 mph
There are reports all over the place of black marlins reaching speeds in the water of 80 mph or more, which would make them the fastest animals in water! However there are some other sources that say this may be exaggerated.
Having said that, many will say that the next fish on this list is actually the fastest which is entirely possible. Black marlin are very popular game fish and are fished commercially all over the world.
Top speed: 70 mph
Some sources actually have the sailfish as the fastest fish in the ocean coming in at around 68-70 mph in a short sprint. Sailfish are a type of billfish just like marlins. They are named for their large dorsal fins that stretch almost the entire length of their bodies.
The sailfish is also Florida’s state saltwater fish. These amazing animals are highly regulated and you can even get in trouble for taking a picture of one that you accidentally catch. It’s actually illegal in costa Rica, a popular fishing destination, to remove a sailfish from the water for the purpose of taking a picture.
Top speed: 60 mph
Wahoo, also known as “ono” in Hawaii, are among the fastest fish in the world and can reach speeds of up to 60 mph in short sprints. These fast fish are very popular among sport fisherman and according to sportfishingmag.com they are #23 on their list of most popular game fish. Wahoo can reach 5 feet in length or more, and weigh upwards of 150 lbs. Reeling one of these in can be quite the achievement.
4. Bluefin tuna
Top speed: 43 mph
The most popular game fish are almost always the fastest, and the bluefin tuna is no different. These massive fish are sought after for their meat that can sell for $xx per punt in some cases. they reach lengths of up to 12 feet and can weight as much as 1500 lbs. On top of that, bluefin tuna can reach speeds of 43 mph or more in the water.
Their meat can fetch anywhere from $20 to as much as $200 per pound at fine fish markets across the world. Here’s an example of a Pacific bluefin tuna selling for a staggering 3 million dollars in a Japanese fish market. The fish was estimated to make 12k pieces of high quality sushi. Bluefin tuna can swim between 40 and 45 mph in open water.
5. Killer whale
Top speed: 35 mph
There are several marine mammals that can swim at speeds of 35-40 mph and keep up with the orca, like bottlenose dolphins. Since I’m only doing top five for each category of the world’s fastest animals though, I chose the killer whale.
Killer whale’s can grow up to 26 feet long and weigh up to 12k pounds. Even at their massive size, they are still able to reach speeds of 35 mph or more in the water when in pursuit of prey. Orcas are apex predators in the ocean, meaning they have no natural enemies. they are even known for hunting great white sharks.