Common Name: Cheetah
Scientific Name: Acinonyx jubatus
Species: A. jubatus
Cheetah comes from the word “Chita” which in Hindi means “spotted one”. These large cats are well known for their print and speed, but there is more to know about cheetahs than meets the eye. Cheetahs are large cats, but are very different when compared to other large cats such as lions, leopards, tigers. Some of the differences we notice are body shape, hunting habits, and vocal abilities.
The cheetah is well-known because it is the fastest land animal. On average cheetah’s top speed is around 70mph. Although they can run this fast they can’t sustain it very long and can only stay at top speed for a few minutes. Built for speed, cheetahs have long thin bodies paired with powerful legs. In addition to their bodies, their heads also allow them to run quickly. They have small round heads that have large nasal passages to help air intake while sprinting. On their face they also have long black lines called “tear lines”. It is believed that these lines protect their eyes and help them see long distances.
Cheetahs can be found across Africa. Within Africa, cheetahs can live in a variety of environments such as deserts, dry forests, grasslands, and open plains. They are able to live in these environments because they do not drink water often, they get most of what they need from their food. Although they don’t need a ton of water their population has had a steep decline. In 1900 in was estimated that there were 100,000 cheetahs across Africa and now the largest known population is approximately 2,500. It is believed that the decline is caused by habitat loss and illegal poaching. Interesting enough, cheetahs are the most reproductive cat, but 90% of cubs die before they reach three months.
As carnivores, cheetahs rely on meat for survival. They use their speed to hunt gazelles, baby wildebeest, and smaller animals they might find such as birds, warthogs, and hares. Cheetahs hunt in day versus at night because their night vision is not very strong. Their spots allow them to camouflage during the day and sneak up on their meal. Cheetahs then must eat quickly or drag their prey to a hiding spot. If other large cats spot it they may try to steal it and unlike other large cats, cheetahs have small teeth and blunt claws which makes fighting difficult.
Another interesting fact is that cheetahs can’t roar, but they can purr, meow, chirp, hiss and yelp. Each of these sounds have specific meanings tied to them and allow them to communicate with other cheetahs. The reason they cannot roar is because they are missing a floating hyoid bone that other cats have. Cheetahs may often get lumped with other large cats, but when we take a closer look we see how unique they are. Next time you see a cheetah print shirt remember that there is more to that big cat then just their unique fur.
Author: Michaella R.
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