September 9, 2012

Cheetahs Are Like Rear-Wheel Drive Cars, Researchers Claim

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

In a new study, Japanese researchers have compared the muscle fibers of domestic cats and dogs with those of the cheetah in an attempt to discover just how the world's quickest land mammal can travel at speeds that would leave highly-decorated Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt in the dust.

By analyzing the various animals, a team of experts from Yamaguchi University, Honda R&D Co Ltd, and the Akiyoshidai Wild Animal Park were able to determine how the cheetah used its hindlimb muscles to propel themselves forward at tremendous speeds, BBC Nature Reporter Matt Bardo wrote on Saturday.

The key, Bardo explained, is that different types of muscle fiber are better suited to different types of activities.

"In all the animals studied, so-called Type I fibers produced a small force output but were resistant to fatigue, making them best suited to maintaining posture and slow walking," he said. "Type IIa fiber performance was best suited to fast walking and trotting whereas Type IIx or 'fast' fibers created a high force output but had low endurance and were key to fast running or galloping."

In order to better understand the creature's sprinting techniques, the researchers mapped the distribution of those fibers across the muscles throughout the cheetah's body. Their findings have been published in the journal Mammalian Biology.

"The forelimb muscles in the cheetah included [the] most Type I muscle fibers of all three animals... while the muscle of hind limb muscles have many Type IIx fibers," study co-author and Yamaguchi University System Physiology Professor Dr. Naomi Wada added.

As such, Dr. Wada said, the team believes that the bulk of the cheetah's power comes from the hind legs, meaning that the principles behind a cheetah's locomotion are strikingly similar to those of a rear wheel drive automobile.

The cheetah, which is found in most parts of Africa as well as in some areas of the Middle East, can reportedly reach speeds of approximately 70 miles per hour, according to the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Furthermore, the organization said that the creatures are able to accelerate from zero to forty miles per hour in just three strides.