What is the secret behind a cheetah's speed? Find out in this video from the November 2012 digital edition of National Geographic magazine.
  • The video above is from the December 2012 iPad edition of National Geographic magazine. Find more interactive content, photos, and videos in the iPad version of National Geographic magazine.

    1. What are the three key elements of a cheetah's body that contribute to its ability to run fast?

      A cheetah's spine, head shape, and ratio of muscle fiber types in its legs all make it the perfect runner.

    2. What is unique about the cheetah's spine and what does it act like when a cheetah runs?

      A cheetah's spine is unique because it is the longest and most flexible of any big cat species. This is important because the cheetah is able to maximize its stride length. When a cheetah runs, its spine acts like a coiled spring.

    3. How does a shorter, lighter skull contribute to a cheetah's running capabilities?

      A shorter, lighter skull results in expanded nasal cavities. This makes a cheetah's head very light, meaning a cheetah can keep its head steady as it runs. Additionally, the expanded nasal cavities result in a quicker recovery time after a run.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    anatomy Noun

    structure of an organism.

    cheetah Noun

    large, spotted cat native to Africa.

    skull Noun

    bones of the head, supporting the face and protecting the brain and upper spinal cord.

    vertebrate Noun

    organism with a backbone or spine.