Science and Tech


A Mite Beats Record For Fastest Land Animal ... Sort Of

Researchers say the fastest land animal relative to its size is a mite native to California that travels 322 times its body length per second.
Posted at 3:53 PM, Apr 29, 2014

So the cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, right? Not quite. Scientists say the fastest land animal is actually something the size of a sesame seed.

According to Science Magazine, it's a species of mite ​called paratarsotomus macropalpis, which is native to Southern California first discovered about a century ago. And relative to its size, it's pretty fast.

Using high-speed cameras, researchers observed the mite can scurry about 322 body lengths in a single second. (Via Samuel Rubin / Pitzer College​)

To put that into perspective, cheetahs can only run 16 body lengths a second, or about 60 miles per hour. (Via Smithsonian Institution)

According to Discovery, a human would have to run at a speed of about 1,300 miles per hour to keep up with the mite. That's fast!

The mite beats the previous record holder for fastest land animal, relative to its size of course — the Australian tiger beetle similar to this one. Its top speed is almost half that of the mite's, at 171 body lengths per second. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Bruce Marlin)

So although these mites won't beat a cheetah in a classic foot race, the researchers say the findings are still pretty remarkable.

According to Nature World News, the mite can not only run very fast but can also survive running across concrete as hot as 140 degrees Fahrenheit — a temp that kills most organisms.

And in a statement obtained by Newswise, a student researcher at Pitzer College who led the study says, "Looking deeper into the physics of how they accomplish these speeds could help inspire revolutionary new designs for things like robots or biomimetic devices." 

The researchers also say the mites were adept at stopping and changing directions quickly — another trait that might prove useful in bioengineering.

That could mean advances in things like the Stickybot created by MIT engineers — mimicking the biology of a gecko's gravity-defying feet. (Via Massachusetts Institute of Technology)