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June 13, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Cheetahs’ Secret Weapon: A Tight Turning Radius [New York Times]
"Anyone who has watched a cheetah run down an antelope knows that these cats are impressively fast. But it turns out that speed is not the secret to their prodigious hunting skills: a novel study of how cheetahs chase prey in the wild shows that it is their agility — their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly and slowing down quickly — that gives those antelope such bad odds."
posted by Fizz (34 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
cats Cheetahs and dogs, living together.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:52 AM on June 13, 2013


Domestic cats also display this ability, though they are hindered by slippery floors.
posted by rtha at 10:53 AM on June 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cheetah running super slo-mo
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:02 AM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pretty damn sure the above sentence is wrong, and this one is the correct one:

But it turns out that speed is not the only secret to their prodigious hunting skills
posted by IAmBroom at 11:05 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


“If you’ve ever done snow skiing or skateboarding really fast, you realize that stability and maneuverability at high speeds are a real problem,”

If you had to do a kickflip backside ollie for your dinner, you'd fucking well solve this problem, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:06 AM on June 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


But it turns out that speed is not the only secret to their prodigious hunting skill,

The cheetah's chief weapon is speed...speed and agility....

The cheetah's *two* weapons are speed and agility ..and surprise....

The cheetah's *three* weapons are speed, agility, surprise, ...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope....

The cheetah's *four*...no... *Amongst* the cheetah's weapons.... are such elements as speed, agility.... I'll come in again.
posted by three blind mice at 11:16 AM on June 13, 2013 [35 favorites]


We're all going to feel stupid when science finds out that these aren't actually cheetahs but small velociraptors that were named mistakenly.
posted by Fizz at 11:25 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Domestic cats also display this ability

I'm sorry to derail, but this related video has me in tears.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:26 AM on June 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


I believe this analysis also applies to Adrian Peterson.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:29 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just came by to applaud the post title.
posted by bearwife at 11:34 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you had to do a kickflip backside ollie for your dinner, you'd fucking well solve this problem, too.

Chester Cheetah's had that handled for years.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:36 AM on June 13, 2013


The cheetah's *four*...no... *Amongst* the cheetah's weapons.... are such elements as speed, agility.... I'll come in again.

Aqueducts!
posted by Kabanos at 11:50 AM on June 13, 2013


Awesome title! Awesome cat. So glad I'm not an antelope.
posted by Mister_A at 12:17 PM on June 13, 2013


Fizz, I've long held that big cats would shred raptors if ever they were to meet. I have a strong prejudice for mammals.
posted by Mister_A at 12:20 PM on June 13, 2013


The odds aren't all that good. I think I heard that they only make a kill about one time out of five. That's enough to keep them fed, of course, but it still means that any given antelope has an 80% chance of getting away.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:42 PM on June 13, 2013


They needed a study to determine this? I've known this ever since I saw Planet Earth, or Life of Mammals. There was one amazing shot of a cheetah chasing an impala directly from the front. You could see the impala zig zagging trying to shake the cheetah, but the cheetah was actually so agile (and the impala's bounds so high) that it could react to the impala's changing directions, adjust it's own angle and beat the impala to the punch. That is to say the impala would decide to change directions in midair and before it had actually managed to do so, the cheetah had noticed and already made it's own cut. Every cut the impala made actually allowed the cheetah to gain ground on it.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fizz, I've long held that big cats would shred raptors if ever they were to meet.

It really kind of depends on which raptor and which cat. The Jurassic Park velociraptors weren't actually modeled on velociraptors at all, but the Deinonychus. A proper velociraptor is more of an atomic-powered turkey. Both of which would be dwarfed by Utahraptor.

But in the cat corner, you'd have a Siberian tiger, or perhaps its extinct 1000-pound cousins the Smilodon and the American Lion.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:11 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


They needed a study to determine this?

What does this even mean? That your insight into cheetah hunting negates the need for scientific study?
posted by ericost at 2:05 PM on June 13, 2013


Cheetahs have a tough gig. They may be fast, but they're not much in a fight against another large predator. So, basically, after expending one zillion calories to get up to highway speed to bring down an antelope, they only get to eat for as long as it takes for the hyenas to show up.
posted by Zed at 2:37 PM on June 13, 2013


What does this even mean? That your insight into cheetah hunting negates the need for scientific study?

Just the opposite. Here are some other scientific studies that I recommend researchers get right the fuck on to confirm my observational hypotheses.

1) Crocodile Jaw Strength, Sneakiness, Key Element in Capturing Prey.
2) Cobra Venom Invaluable in Cobra Killing Things.
3) Elephant Size Helpful Deterrent to Predators.
4) Anteater Tongue Useful in Eating Ants.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:01 PM on June 13, 2013


They needed a study to determine this? I've known this ever since I saw Planet Earth, or Life of Mammals.

You should rtfa. It's more than a casual observation. If that's all it took to do good science, we could cut costs massively in our research agenda. But, of course, your keen insights can tell us exactly how the cheetah achieves a superiority through anatomical and physiologic adaptations, right?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:15 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here are some other scientific studies that I recommend researchers get right the fuck on to confirm my observational hypotheses.

I think you're missing the point that the article's headline is not the actual useful result of the research. The headline gets you, the layman that funds research, to read the article and go, "Hmm. Interesting. Science is cool!"

The real results could be ...

1) Crocodile Jaw Strength, Sneakiness, Key Element in Capturing Prey.
-- A new way of understanding reptile musculature that allows us to make better prosthetic limbs.

2) Cobra Venom Invaluable in Cobra Killing Things.
-- Compounds derived from cobra venom can be used to create new drugs.

3) Elephant Size Helpful Deterrent to Predators.
-- Large-scale bone structure helps us understand limiting factors to creating human orthopedic devices.

4) Anteater Tongue Useful in Eating Ants.
-- Check it out! A new idea for making robot arms!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:40 PM on June 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was once alone in Montana and had the occasion to ponder the attacking techniques of your average moose. One of the top things that I learned is that the moose lacks cornering ability and this is your only advantage because they are fast and single-minded and when they knock you down, they'll just dance on your head until they forget what they are doing and amble away wondering why their feet are all smushy. So, run and take a corner, around a car, around a building, around a tree and keep cornering until you can take adequate cover or the moose notices a butterfly. Do not fight the cheetah.
posted by amanda at 3:52 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


They needed a study to determine this?

If you think that scientists shouldn't rigorously test even the most obvious-seeming hypotheses, you probably don't have any conception of the history of science over the last few millennia and you'd probably be doing yourself a favour by reading more and writing less about these types of things.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:06 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh great, another parkour post.
posted by spitbull at 5:03 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the top things that I learned is that the moose lacks cornering ability

Oh, wow, that totally reminds me -- rodeo clowns take advantage of this lack of cornering ability, too. The whole idea is to keep sidestepping and running in circles.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:10 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the observations in the article can be applied to just about any predator that runs down it's prey on a regular basis. I vaguely remember watching a documentary about wolves years ago that talked about how they watch their prey as they chase it and take a tighter line to cut the distance. It's something I've seen my dog do when chasing other dogs at the dog park and once chasing after a rabit.

I'm surprised there was no mention of the tail. To me it seems longer and thicker than it should be relative to the size of the animal and you can see them swing the thing around like mad to counteract their momentum when stopping and turning. Again, it's something I've seen dogs do when running around.

I don't think it's news that the cheetah uses agility the way it does but just how good it is at it and why.
posted by VTX at 5:33 PM on June 13, 2013


"The president and first lady had also planned to take a Tanzanian safari as part of the trip, which would have required the president’s special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles with high-caliber rounds that could neutralize cheetahs, lions or other animals if they became a threat, according to the planning document."
posted by homunculus at 6:26 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised there was no mention of the tail. To me it seems longer and thicker than it should be relative to the size of the animal

They use them to help steer, like the rudder of a boat:

... Cheetah's tails are flat so they can be whipped from side to side. You could learn that in a book. But that the book would not tell you is the first one-third of their tail is round, then most of their tail is flat-actually oval-and the tip of the tail is round again.
http://www.traffictrak.com/africa/savanphotos/cheetah/cheetah.html
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:43 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Cool! They do also throw their tails around to help them balance when their running. As I said, I've seen my dog do the same thing.
posted by VTX at 8:04 PM on June 13, 2013


GO BIG KITTEH!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:16 PM on June 13, 2013


Cheetahs are the awesomest of all big cats. Good stuff.

And Amanda - tell us more about that moose encounter!
posted by davidmsc at 11:46 PM on June 13, 2013


So, basically, after expending one zillion calories to get up to highway speed to bring down an antelope, they only get to eat for as long as it takes for the hyenas to show up.

They don't get long in any case, even if no one shows up to steal their kill. Cheetahs can't eat carrion; they only eat from a fresh kill. Within a few hours the meat starts to go bad and the Cheetahs can't eat it any more.

Cheetahs are pretty much clones. They're all nearly identical genetically. It's hypothesized that a while back they suffered a near miss with extinction, with a dramatic population collapse and then recovery. It's possible they were down to a single breeding pair at one point. But the result is that there's virtually no genetic variation in the species.

For instance, every tiger has a unique set of stripes. Ever leopard has a unique set of spots. Every cheetah has the same spots. You can transplant a patch of skin from one cheetah to another, and it will take. It won't be rejected.

It seems that one of the things they lost in their brush with extinction is enzymes needed to eat carrion, so they can't anymore.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:59 AM on June 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Chocolate Pickle: Every cheetah has the same spots. You can transplant a patch of skin from one cheetah to another, and it will take. It won't be rejected.
TIL two fascinating things about the possibly-doomed cheetah, the most beautiful species on Earth that doesn't even need humans to go extinct. Sadly.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:26 PM on June 17, 2013


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