A new title-holder for world’s fastest land animal: A California mite

Paratarsotomus macropalpis (Courtesy Pomona College News)
Paratarsotomus macropalpis (Courtesy Pomona College News)

The title of world’s fastest land animal has changed hands. It now goes to a Southern California mite traveling under the name Paratarsotomus macropalpis, according to a team of researchers from the Claremont Colleges.

How fast is it?

The mite was recorded by the team running at 322 body lengths per second.

Translation: It’s the equivalent of Usain Bolt running at 1,300 miles per hour.

The cheetah, often described as the world’s fastest animal at 60 miles per hour, moves at a measly 16 body lengths per second.

The dethroned second-fastest animal, relative to body size, is the Australian tiger beetle at 171 body lengths per second, the researchers said.

It’s all relative to body size, of course. And since the mite’s body size is smaller than a sesame seed, it’s unlikely that the mite could actually beat Usain Bolt, with his great stride, in a one-on-one race, except perhaps on a pavement as hot as a frying pan that no human could tolerate.

That’s the other discovery the team made about this particular mite. It runs on concrete heated in the sun to a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Both relative speed and stride frequency increase as animals get smaller,” Pomona College biologist Jonathan Wright, who led the team, said in a summary of the research posted on the college’s Web site. “And in theory, muscle physiology should at some point limit how fast a leg can move. We were looking at the overarching question of whether there is an upper limit to the relative speed or stride frequency that can be achieved. When the values for mites are compared with data from other animals, they indicate that, if there is an upper limit, we haven’t found it yet.”

The research team used high-speed cameras to record the mites’ speed in the laboratory and in their natural environment. “It was actually quite difficult to catch them, and when we were filming outside, you had to follow them incredibly quickly as the camera’s field of view is only about 10 centimeters across,” said Samuel Rubin, a member of the team.

Joining Wright and Rubin in the project were Maria Young Dwight Whitaker and Anna Ahn.

 

 

Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
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